Friday, May 31, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Extremely Uncomfortable

The Good:  Today, the last field trip of the homeschool year, was a lovely boat trip out on the ocean.
The Bad:  The tail light fell off the van on the highway en route.
the Extremely Uncomfortable:  My ungainly pregnant self had to dodge traffic to snatch the fixture off the pavement before it became expensive roadkill.

The Good:  It was incredibly hot everywhere except on the ocean, where it was refreshingly balmy.
The Bad:  The air conditioning in the van wasn't working.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  The fans which could have blown at least warm air past our sweating faces weren't working either.

The Good:  The son who's prone to motion sickness wasn't the least bit fazed by the rocking waves.
The Bad:  I over-packed for the possible messy drama of a sea sick child.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  I dragged all the stuff up and down the hill to the boat, and soaked the bottom of the heavy bag which made a conspicuous mark in an unfortunate spot on my pants.

The Good:  I'm not prone to swelling too much during pregnancies.
The Bad:  There are still hot, humid days when my legs will turn into cankles, and it's only May.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  My toes feel like cheap sausages.  Can you get stretch marks on those little piggies?

The Good: The boys were very good through all the heat and driving and didn't complain.
The Bad:  The youngest stayed home with Grandma and had a great nap in an air conditioned room.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  The oldest are exhausted and went straight to sleep, but the bright-eyed youngest won't stop talking loudly to them from his crib.

The Good:  We made it home in time for supper.
The Bad:  We didn't make it home in time to make it, just in time to be super hungry and ready to eat it.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  I ordered pizza on the way home; someone's diapers are not going to be pleasant tomorrow.

The Good:  We had to drive past Daddy's work place to get to and from the ocean.
The Bad:  We really didn't have time to stop and say hi.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  I remembered that he has some hanging flower baskets there that I've wanted to get for the porch, but I had already decided to spend the money on pizza.

The Good:  There were lots of homeschool mammas for me to talk to on the boat.
The Bad:  I'm an introvert.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  My kids were so excited that they kept chattering to me during the whole trip and I didn't do well catching up with anyone else.

The Good:  I remembered to leave windows open before we left, and it didn't rain.
The Bad:  A wasp managed to get in the house.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  One of my boys *may* always scream like a little girl when faced with a stinging insect.

The Good:  The piece that flew off the van wasn't a tire or an engine block, at least the power windows still opened, the kids are healthy, the baby in my tummy doesn't yet have to be considered a paying passenger on a field trip, the little one had a rare and special afternoon with Grandma, there happened to be a drive-through-to-pick-up-pizza place on the way home, I had money to buy the pizza, my introverted self at least won't be complaining if it doesn't talk, and no body got stung.
The Bad:  We all have days that don't go great.
The Extremely Uncomfortable:  I realize how blessed I am that all my difficulties are inconsequential in the big picture, and I am humbled once again.

Still, I really do wish the child who boldly kissed a sea cucumber this afternoon would learn not to scream like a girl.

I know, count my blessings.
At least his voice hasn't changed yet :)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Minute Muffin in a Mug

This is the food blog I said I'd never write.
I am NOT a food guru.  I am not a doctor or a nutritionist; I am not particularly organic or vegan or anti-gluten or calorie-conscious; I am not allergic or picky.
I just like good food.
I did once gain the freshman fifteen (ok, it was more like the freshman 20).  I've gained over 130-odd pounds - if you count this year, it'll probably top 150 - over the course of seven years and five pregnancies.  And I've already grown out of several sets of jeans just this month.    
I don't exercise regularly. Lugging a two year old up and down stairs is great weight training, and pushing a wheelchair through snow or gravel borders on a fair cardio workout.
Here's the incidental trade secret: I nurse each baby for a year or more; that seems to be the best weight loss program I've tried; I eat a ton and it melts off.
So I'm not the one to ask about diet secrets.  I'd just tell you to have more kids.  :)

But I want to eat food that tastes good.  I want to be satisfied when I'm done.  I want to have energy after I eat.  I don't believe that the FDA (ha!) or even the health food stores have the answers.  The last couple general practice docs that I've had looked sicker than I ever did.  Scientists and health books seem to contradict each other.  And I've read enough blogs to suspect I'm not alone in this quest for a sustainable, tasty, healthy food lifestyle.
I'm growing more inquisitive from having a baby with congenital abnormalities for which there is no explanation, wondering about exactly what I'm feeding all my kids, and realizing I won't be invincible forever myself.  Is diet as pivotal as all that?

So I'm going to plug a book today that may help.  It's been my guideline for health and food.  It sites age-old wisdom.  And yes, it does say to eat your veggies.
It's called the Bible.  

Don't roll your eyes. I'm serious.  My kids may tell you the answer to every question I ask them is "God."  Well, it's pretty much true.  But I realize it's practically heretical compared to current diet advice.  God's Word says eat red meat, milk, and grain.  Eat salt.  Eat butter.  In fact, set aside days for feasting in celebration, and for eating in remembrance.
Deuteronomy 32 describes Israel as the "apple of His eye" - people He loved.  He wanted the best for them.  Verse 13 starts describing the food He would give them.  "Produce from the fields (veggies and grain?), honey from the rock (glucose?), oil from the flinty rock (fats?), curds from the cattle (butter), milk of the flock (dairy), the fat of lambs, rams, and goats (meat), the choicest grain (flour), the blood of grapes (fruit).
God made all these food groups; not one is a second rate choice.
A balance is obviously necessary, but eliminating a whole food group doesn't seem Biblical.
Certainly, if you misuse good foods, you will get fat and sick and messed up.  When my babies ate too many carrots, their skin turned orange.  If I eat too many beans, I'll feel bloated.  When I eat raw garlic, I try not to breathe much in public.  There are real food allergies and bodies that simply can't digest particular foods.  If you're allergic; don't eat it!  But as a general rule, God made lots of plants and animals as food for enjoyment and blessing.  Food was not meant to be a curse.

Here's some of what I've gleaned in the past year or so.
I need meat for complete protein (I'd need to eat two cups of beans or seven cups of brown rice to get the same amount of protein as a little slab of chicken breast). It's the best source of all essential amino acids, the only source of carnitine and taurine, and the only dietary source of vitamins A and D.  Skin and muscle tone depend on meat.  It also breaks down slowly, allowing you to feel more satisfied longer.  Good meat comes at a price; so there are plenty of days when we get protein from other sources.  But as often as we are able, we get meat on the table.
(My suspicion about life without meat is that you would certainly feel better if you suddenly turned vegan and eliminated all those white starchy carbs, processed food, and sugar from your diet, while also adding lots of fresh veggies.  But trying to connect the dots to say meat - especially from healthy, pasture-raised animals - is the culprit for poor health, I suspect, misses the main offenders completely.)
God said to eat meat.  I'm gonna go with Him on this one.  Plus, I'm raising five boys and a husband.  I can't imagine any of them being happy to give up steak or chicken nuggets.

I also need fat.  Yes, I  said it.  Need.  The outer layer of your body's cells requires fat.  Your brain needs fat.  Your skin needs fat.  A woman can't reproduce without enough fat.  And saturated fat is where it's at.  (I read a lot of The Cat in the Hat... Which is neither here nor there, but I can still quote it anywhere!)  In my house, we eat coconut oil, olive oil, and lots of butter.  And lard from some local pigs.  And fermented cod liver oil.  God made these.  He didn't make margarine; Napoleon did, as a cheap substitute for the soldiers who had no access to fresh dairy products to smear on their bread to make it more palatable.  It is made from an emulsion of plant oils and water, and naturally has no color.  There's a problem with vegetable oils.  They go rancid quickly, so they have to be hydrogenated to make them shelf stable.  Forcing hydrogen through them, and heating them through cooking, turns the oils into trans fats which your body thinks are actually saturated fats.  So it sticks them into your cell walls instead of natural fats.  That's really bad.  Also, those things called fat soluble vitamins - they are vital.  But they are unusable and nonexistent without good fats to provide and process them.  Yes, skim milk has calcium, but you need the fats from the creamy part to incorporate it into your body.  Plus, dipping an Oreo in a glass of skim is close to sacrilegious.

I eat grain.  Corn, wheat, oatmeal...  They are in the Bible.  Jesus called himself the bread of life, and that wasn't a negative thing.  Unfortunately, in our country, pretty much all the grain we have access to has been significantly meddled with.  It's been chemicalized, hybridized, grown for profit over provision, and way, way overused.  Wheat, and especially corn, are in everything.  Phytic acid, which is in the protein of grain, is very difficult to digest.  Long term over abundance of it in our systems wreaks havoc.  Our bodies turn grain into glucose.  That's good; we use glucose for energy.  But a single meal in our culture usually has far too much of it.  The excess is stored in fat cells.  The abundance of it exhausts our insulin capacities, daily.  If the germ has been removed, then there is very little nutrition in it; if it is still whole grain, then it breaks down into products that interfere with hormones and vitamin absorption.  
We eat less of it the more I learn about it all.  But I have so many boys growing and burning so much energy every day, we're not willing to give it up and go against the grain.  Instead, I'm learning how to soak or sprout grains before baking or cooking, which gets rid of a lot of the phytic acid that is so difficult to handle.  My husband likes sourdough which also does this.  It's easy to feed my kids pasta; they like it and it's cheap.  Yet it's cheap on so many levels...  I can understand where the anti-gluten folks are coming from.  But fresh bread on a rainy day is too high up my comfort scale to allow it to disappear.  God intended it to be satisfying and enjoyable.

For the sake of length, I won't get into fruits and veggies or sweets and desserts.  We could all stand to eat more vegetables, and be conscious of the sugar rush we can get from even good sweet stuff.  We simply try to stay as natural, seasonal, and local as possible.  Fresh just tastes good.  I'm looking forward to peas and tomatoes still warm from the garden, and trying my hand at our own batches of saurkraut, apple pie, ice cream, cider vinegar, and dehydrated fruits as we head into fall.  They spoil my taste for things pre-made, fake sugared, and over salted.  Hope my kids learn to think they're spoiled from all the goodness too!

There aren't a whole lot of books I've read on these subjects, and there are fewer I'd recommend.  But I'll plug two (in addition to the Original, as I mentioned above.)

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, is just chock full of the basics of what is good food and how to prepare it.  I haven't read the whole thing from cover to cover, but it has been the standard food reference on my shelf for the past several years.  I know how to make broth from chicken bones because of them, and fermented stuff like kefir and sauerkraut, and even some about what foods go together well and why.  Plus there's lots of other good food stuff they don't teach in school.

Trim, Healthy Mama by Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, is the best diet book I've ever read (also the only diet book I've ever read.)  It is practical, sensible advice from two mothers with large families.  It was just what I was looking for as I tried, with a very non-scientific mind, to grasp how different foods physiologically work in our bodies.  Their basic rule of eating is "never include large amounts of both fats and carbs in the same meal."  It works.  They also happen to look at the Bible as the basis for their food and health choices too.  Isn't that a coincidence?  They have a lot of practical advice dealing with hormones and marriage to what a kid needs nutritionally compared to an adult.  I was encouraged to get the "why" behind the much conflicting health advice we get bombarded with.

This is a recipe they present in the book.  It's become a favorite based on speed, taste, and health.

Muffin in a Mug
Crack one egg into a coffee mug.
Add 1 and 1/2 tablespoons EACH of flax meal and almond flour.
Add 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder.
Add a few shakes of Nunaturals (pure stevia powder), OR a scant tablespoon of sugar (if you're like my husband and won't do stevia.)
Add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.
Add 1 tablespoon coconut oil (even fairly solid, it seems to work in fine.)
Stir vigorously.
Microwave for one minute.  (Or, you can bake it in a ramekin for about 8 minutes, but it just doesn't sound as cool as a microwaveable minute muffin...)

I usually throw a slab of butter on top, or yogurt, and it's pretty filling.  And it's chocolate.  And it's fast.  And my kids think I look funny eating out of a coffee mug.  And my two year old loves to steal bites.

Don't you feel smarter now?  I just feel hungry :)


Saturday, May 25, 2013


Cool, wet breeze wafts through the cracked window, swaying the curtains.  The lightness of lilac sweetness and Spring mud floats in on it.  My husband breathes deep beside me.  The children's room is quiet, enrobed in overcast morning coziness.  I hear a creak as the wind checks the house's solid walls.  Satisfied, it moves on.  The home is at peace.
I shift my bulging tummy and try to settle it against a pillow.  It kicks back at me.  The clock stands sentinel.  A few minutes after 5.  It's Saturday.  Homeschool is over for the year (as much as homeschool can ever be, at least.)  No one need rush this morning.  White sheets are so soft.  They fit around my lumpy edges.  I am warm.  Breathing slowly.  Languid.

But why am I awake?  Had there been a noise that brought me back to consciousness?  I hear only pattering rain and a faint tick from the downstairs clock.  I heave my body over awkwardly.  The boys' room door is still.  Did someone call me?  Long minutes pass.  My eyes close as I wait.  No voice.  Nothing audible.  But there is a sense.  I am being called.

Maybe it's just the coffee pot.  I stir and sigh.  Maybe.  But it's more than that.  Nothing tangible.  Nothing loud enough for my ears to detect.  But deeper than I can hear.  I am being called.

A line from an old Nora Jones song echoes in my brain.  It seems to come from far off.  "Come away with me..."  I heave me legs over the bedside.  The floor is cold.  "Come away with me... I'll never stop... loving you."  The stair sighs under my weight.  I hold my breath so I'll be lighter.  Hope the children don't hear my heartbeat quicken.  But nothing stirs.

Downstairs.  The clock ticks loudly now.  The refrigerator hums faithfully as I cross the kitchen threshold.  I click on the coffee pot.  The spicy warm smell of brown liquid quickens my mind, anticipating the caffeine.  Both hands clutch the familiar mug as I pad on bare feet to the sofa by the window.  Pink azaleas outside it have mostly passed.  Rain has made everything so green.  I lumber onto the cushions and settle with my Bible.  I am awake now.  Still I can almost but not quite hear.  I am being called.      
"Daughter.  Child."  It's not the voice of children.  It's older; more familiar even than my own offspring's tremulous calls.  "You have come."  I pull a small blanket over my feet.  Warmth spreads through me in welcome.  Is it from the coffee?

The pages of the big Book swish lightly.  I'm heading to Samuel.  To the book written by a prophet of God.  So long ago.  He was called.  He thought it was Eli, the aging man in the next room.  His mentor.  Samuel was young.  His ears were sharp, his body quick to react.  He jumped up from his bed and responded.  But it wasn't Eli calling him.  
It was God.

I scan the page to find where I left off yesterday.  The chapter I recognize; probably one of the first Bible stories I ever heard.  One of the first I told to my children.  One of the favorites.  Good guy verses bad guy.  Classic.  I'm tempted to gloss over to avoid repetition.  But no.  Soon I'm immersed again in the drama.  David.  Young, sunburned, indomitable, vivacious David.  Goliath.  Brazen, defiant, bullish, impatient Goliath.  Humble and untested stared up at contemptuous and seasoned.  They had no comic books to base their hopes on.  I try not to make a movie of it in my head.  This was real.  Everyone expected David to die.
His big brothers groaned.  If they lived till tomorrow, how would they ever tell their father they had allowed his youngest to battle that foul-mouthed behemoth?  His blood would be on their hands.  Where was God to save them from this reckless, impetuous, poor little brat?

His king sulked.  Tall and muscular, leader, accomplished warrior, he knew he should have accepted the Philistine challenge himself.  But shadows made him jump these days.  The men whispered together when he forbid his own brave son to battle the giant.  There must be some large but foolish brute within his army who could at least put out a decent fight before they met their doom, and he himself could flee to some cave before they were all made slaves or roadkill.  This musician boy was not what he had in mind.  How embarrassing.  Where was God to reject him and allow his kingship to be represented by a measly shepherd kid?        

His countrymen trembled.  As if they hadn't been on edge for a month, hearing the taunts and jeers from the giant echoed across the valley from the entire enemy army.  Men had been deserting daily, slipping away in the night when they could bear no more.  Endless waiting under the scorching sun as the sordid enemy beat down their morale.  This day, they hardly made pretense of secrecy or shame.  Increasing numbers of shadows darted over the hills behind the encampment.  This boy represented their proud military?!?  He had neither armor nor sword.  Where was God to stand by and let this injustice continue?  

God was waiting.  Waiting for someone to answer His call.
"Son," David heard in the recesses of his mind as he stooped to grab a handful of stones.  "You have come."

I didn't plan to fight giants today.
I changed diapers, and scrambled eggs, and wiped questionable-smelling mud off of boots.
I read library books, dashed through puddles with a two year old balanced on my 6-month-pregnant belly, ate leftover peanut butter bread.
I sopped up spilled milk, wiped tears, searched for marbles lost.
I chased three week old chickens so my disabled son could hold them.
I ate a nasty cheeseburger.
I buckled.
I unbuckled.
I went to the grocery store on a rainy Memorial Day weekend with four hungry kids right before supper.
I consoled a child who tried to clobber the friendly groundhog with a plastic hockey stick and couldn't decide if he was more upset that he didn't kill him for supper or might have hurt him and left him to suffer.
I told another child he couldn't wear all five of his favorite pairs of underwear to bed.
I made another child eat his broccoli even after he spit the first chewed bite out.    
I made another child cry when I removed the bowl of rice he was deliberately spooning into the recesses behind his booster chair.
I killed a spider.
I brought my husband a surprise coffee at work (and a lot of kids who wanted him to buy them stuff.)
I protected children from the scary automatic flush toilets in a public restroom.
I chased a train in the rain (in the van) just to watch it go over the bridge.
I said yes.
I said no.
I said just be quiet I can't hear myself think.
I said I love you.
I kissed a hurt toe.
I kissed a hurt forehead.
I removed scotch tape from a stuffed animal.
I did dishes.
I vacuumed.
I tucked and re-tucked in.
I blogged.
I survived.

And, somehow, though I didn't expect it, the giants are dead.

He called.  I answered.  I'm so glad I did.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


It's the season.  Spring.  Ahh.  Sweet warm breezes wafting through newly-opened windows.  The kids (and I) would be much happier spending our days outside, sucking in sunshiny vitamin D and planting pretty things.  But we're trying to finish the school year without drowning in it; I'm smacking hard into the third trimester of this pregnancy, and have no constructive plans for Summer other than surviving it, which isn't terribly motivating...  It's May here.  How is it going for you?

I MAY take impromptu naps while the boys are supposed to be doing their reading homework with me.

I MAY have Spring cleaning lists written out in triplicate, but I pull the ligaments around my tummy every time I get off the couch.

I MAY have ordered pizza instead of grinding and soaking my own grain to make fresh homemade dough on a long night when my hubby was working late.  (I know; how could I?!?)

I MAY have felt like a terrible teacher when my kid claimed he had no idea how to carry the ones in his adding problems.  He's been doing it well for months.  But when Daddy asked - he suddenly forgot.

I MAY have thrown away some of my children's artwork from the past school year.  Shhh.

I MAY have left the trash can super full and stubbornly waited for my husband to notice it and take it out.  (Though I was the one who couldn't stand the smell.)

I MAY have broken one of my personal cardinal rules.  I ate ice cream alone.  I am ashamed.  A bit.

I MAY need fellowship with actual grown ups, but can't find the energy to clean house or the humility to invite someone over when I haven't mopped in weeks (I MAY need to hurry up and order a new mop head instead of rubbing sticky spots with a paper towel under my toe...)

I MAY have turned on Sesame Street so I could take a late, long shower in peace.  Several times.

I MAY have needed a glass of water but opted for a second cup of coffee instead.

I MAY be losing sight of my toes below my tummy.

I MAY be over-planning a garden that will need attention in August, when I'm nine months' pregnant (and then post-partum.)

I MAY feel a little cooped up when it is gorgeous weather outside, but I still have a mountain of laundry, sink full of dishes, and a catch-up history lesson still to complete before nap time, or else I have to leave it till after bed time or for another day.  Chores don't just disappear because the air got warm.

I MAY have gotten my favorite pregnant skirt smeared with something unmentionable when the naked toddler got excited after bathing, and had to change into unforgiving not-pregnant pants that I can't bend over in and simultaneously breathe.  (Really should have dealt with that laundry pile.)

I MAY have contemplated my options as I watched the big spider crawl frantically around the ceiling over my head while I sat, helpless, in the bathroom.  (Isn't that the age-old conundrum - If you scream in the bathroom, and there are only four young children to hear you and come panic/and/or try to save the spider/kill it with a plunger above your head - could you resist the urge to scream if said spider landed on your head while you were indisposed?)

I MAY have found both gum and puffy glitter paint partially dried on the diaper bag.  But I could not find diapers in it when I looked.

I MAY have gone through a whole box of Angry Bird band aids on all the new boo boos after the boys pulled out their tricycles and scooters.  (Note: not all boo boos actually needed a band aid or ten...)

I MAY not be saving much money by planting a garden this year if I factor in the water bill from all the help I've had with the hose this month.

I MAY need to find a better way to wander around frog ponds this summer than lugging a 2 and a half year old on my pregnant belly while he inadvertently tries to decapitate me with his slimy frog net.  We just may not engage in this inexpensive, muddy, but kid-favorite summer activity so much this season...

I MAY be stocking up on good tissues as some sort of spring fever makes its snuffly rounds through the kids.  (And some shoulder pads for me that will protect my shirt shoulders from the snotty cuddles.)

I MAY have grumbled about the sun rising earlier.  It helps me wake more easily, but I'm not the only one.  Wish you could teach a 2 year old to tell time (and abide by it.)

I MAY have left dishes to marinate in the sink while I started a blog post...

I MAY need to regroup before we head into June.

Life in color.

Some months are just like that.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cold Rice

This story of motherhood is not full of dandelion bouquets, ice cream, safety and comfort.  But I hope I can be more like this faithful woman's mother as I continue on my own parenting journey.

My mother, in a quiet place, with her grandson.

Esther Ahn Kim's mother had neither church nor Bible.  She taught her daughter to live by four tenets that a missionary had taught her when she was a child:
1. Jesus is the only Son of God and is the only Savior.
2. Jesus will never forsake his believers.
3. Jesus is able to take all the misfortunes of believers and turn them into good.
4. Jesus hears the prayers of his children.

My mother was one of those persons who always lived for others.  Once a week she filled a sack with aspirin, salve, candy, and tissue paper and visited the poor.  I had never seen her eat warm rice.  She would always cook a large amount of rice at one time.
"If I have plenty of cooked rice," she told me when I asked her about it, "I can give some to a beggar when he comes.  In order to follow Jesus, I think we should always be prepared to give to others."
Mother was so different from the other members of my father's household.  They only gave away that which they did not want to keep for themselves.  They seemed to hate each other and only lived from day to day.  They had no God, no holy day, no true joy of confidence.  Wherever Mother was, it was like a chapel of heaven around her.

By 1939, most missionaries had left Korea because the Japanese occupation endangered the local people when they had contact with them.  Everyone was commanded to only speak Japanese and take on Japanese surnames.  Those who didn't comply would lose their jobs and their children wouldn't be allowed in school.
  Shrines were built in every city, and small ones were placed in every school, church, and house.  It became a rule that every Korean must bow before the shrines.  Esther was a music teacher when her school was called to a rally at a great shrine in Seoul.  She had no choice but to go, though she felt very much like she was marching to her own execution as she led her students up the mountain.  The bold words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego echoed against the fear in her mind.

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King.  But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.  
Daniel 3:17-18

In eerily coincidental fashion, the order came to bow.  As one, the entire great crowd obeyed, bending the upper half of their bodies at a straight angle.
Only one person remained standing.

Four detectives were waiting in her classroom; her students watched as Esther was led away for her brazen disobedience.  Though she managed to slip away before being incarcerated, she felt the need to prepare herself for the cold prison cell ultimately awaiting her.  She slipped onto a train, and her mother met her in the far north, near the Manchurian border, where the two of them found an isolated, deserted house.  This place was both retreat and preparation.  Her mother knew Esther's fear and frailty, but she also knew the strength of God.  She did not try to keep her daughter from impending suffering.  She helped her prepare for it.
In the weeks they were there, Esther memorized hymns and over 100 chapters of the Bible.  She fasted for longer and longer periods, even from water.  She slept without a quilt.  She practiced living in deep poverty, eating rotten beans and poor produce.  She expected it would only be worse in the prison camps.  She had many clandestine meetings with persecuted Christians who already hid in the mountains and could tell her their stories of torture and pain.  All too soon, she heard the Japanese knew of her whereabouts, and she had to flee.  Alone.

It was hard for Mother to see me leave... The tears flowed as I thought of Mother, who was left alone now with her aching heart.  She would be even more dependent upon the Lord than before.

When next they met, Esther's mother told her "The time has come for you to prepare yourself to die."  So, as Esther put it, she started "practicing to die."  In fact, she felt a burden to go to the Japanese and tell them of their wrong before God.  She left Korea and headed for Tokyo.  No longer waiting for death, Esther was diving into it.  Her mother watched her determine to follow God's directing, saying, "Concerning your going to warn the Japanese authorities, I can think of many things that make me feel that God has planed this for you since you were a child."
Esther and a friend made their way upward, talking and preaching to many in authority throughout the capital.  Finally they made it into the Japanese legislature.  They spoke boldly.  They were arrested.

Esther spent the next 6 years in prison, mostly in Pyongyang.  Often she expected to die.  She used the time to speak and live before many other prisoners and guards.  But years of cold, sickness, harsh treatment, and little food aged and weakened her body.  At one point, the prison doctor asked that she be released because she was growing blind and had frostbitten feet.  She met her mother outside.  The matron woman's figure was waif-thin and she hobbled painfully.  She remonstrated her daughter, explaining what life was like beyond the prison's brick walls.

We can get nothing except by rationing... We eat anything we can get... Because of these, I am blind; I cannot see your face... We can't get fuel.  My feet are so frostbitten I can hardly walk.  A citizen who is loyal to God has no place in this world.  Christians in prison are dying, but so are the believers outside...  Didn't you give everything to the Lord, including your eyes?

Esther thanked her mother for reminding her of reality, then asked the guard to return her to her frigid cell.  "I have never seen anything like this before," said the Korean senior officer.  "The daughter is great.  The mother is greater."

Thirty-four Christians had entered Pyongyang prison in 1940.  On August 17, 1945, when the cells were opened and the Japanese occupation was over, fourteen had survived.  Esther and her family fled from North Korea, where the Russian occupation would prove to be worse even than the Japanese.  In Seoul, she met her husband.  She'd always wanted to marry an engineer; but her mother had always hoped she'd marry a pastor.  Esther said, "Mother and I had competed against each other in our prayers.   We both laughed at our predicament."  It wasn't long before Esther's husband gave up his engineering work to become a pastor.

Esther's mother was nurturing and very caring.  But her sympathy did not make her soft.  She was not stoic, but managed to be strong and courageous in the face of both her and her own daughter's intense suffering.  It is agonizingly difficult to speak the prayer, "Do whatever You will with my child," knowing that it may very well not be physical comfort, ease or happiness.
Yet I suspect there was never a mother prouder of her child, or a child more loved and prayed for than Esther Ahn Kim.

I always felt strengthened when I talked with Mother about God and His love.  I began to think that life might be worth living in this time of persecution.  It might even be a truer picture of the believer to agonize, to suffer, to be hated, and tortured, and even to be killed in obeying God's words rather than to live an ordinary, uneventful life. 
-Esther Ahn Kim

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you... Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:11-12

(Most of this story was taken from the book, Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper.  Piper obtained the quotes and biography from If I Perish by Esther Ahn Kim.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Be Littled

Oh, to be a kid again!  Or at least, to be like a kid...

The Bible says that's actually something us old folks are supposed to attempt.  I have had a fair amount of opportunity to study kids.  (I read once that to truly be considered a master at something, you have to spend at least 10,000 hours doing or practicing for it.  If you only count the 2+ years I've parented a minimum of 4 boys 24/7, then I have over 18,000 hours under my belt.  Yes, I counted night time in there too.  Plenty of humble mommy-ing happens in the wee hours.)  A fair amount.
By now, I have noticed a few reasons why Jesus might have encouraged us to emulate the children.

1. Kids are naturally happy.
My children automatically tend to look at glasses as half full - even if for no other reason than that makes it more fun to dump out.  They aren't generally depressed.  They embrace life, as if it's an exciting adventure.  Even going to Walmart gets their heart pumping (It does mine too, but not from joy.)  It's infectious (Ever been grumpy around a three year old giggling uproariously?  It's not easy.)  
Rejoice always.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

2. Kids wake up eagerly.
"It's five a.m.?  Yay!  What are we waiting for?  Let's get this day rolling!  C'mon, sleepyhead brothers, let's sing!  Help Mom get moving so she doesn't miss out."  (Honestly, they have to stay quietly in their room until 7, but especially the littlest ones don't get this for a while.  Maybe it's just in my house...)
...She also rises while it is yet night...  Proverbs 31:15

3. Kids trust.
Parents have to teach their kids not to talk to strangers.  Why?  Because their natural tendency is to want to trust.  Really, more often than not, this is to their advantage.  My boys have gotten free balloons, candy, money, attention, cheese, and puppies (ok, no puppies... yet) simply by holding out their hands and believing the big people in charge of those things would share the good they had. Surprisingly often, they're right.
The children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.  Psalm 36:7

4. Kids ask for what they need.
Even babies grasp this concept.  Want food?  Cry for it.  Need comfort?  Hold up your arms for a hug.  A kid doesn't sit around worrying about not having it.  He goes right to the source (in his mind) of everything he needs.  And he expects an answer.
Ask, and it will be given to you...  Matthew 7:7
5.  Kids are curious.
They are humble enough to admit they don't know "why" or "how."  So they try to find out.  This is similar to the former point.  It goes beyond asking, though.  They experiment, they poke, they test gravity and Mom's limits.  They want to know what "exterminate" means, and why you can't usually see the moon in the daytime, and which kind of ice cream can they have for breakfast.  (The kind with oatmeal and nothing from the freezer, fyi.)
I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven... Ecclesiasties 1:13

6.  Kids touch.
Up here in the northeast, natives are fairly reserved.  We don't hug a lot, link elbows for a stroll, caress in public, or even poke people on Facebook.  Our west coast friends teased us constantly in our college days for being so physically inhibited.   Maybe it has something to do with the cold weather; we're just cooler in our interactions.  Most folks I know will bend over backwards to help someone in need, but don't expect backslapping or sharing a sofa with only one cushion.  I remember in the early days with the first baby, laughing about how much constant contact a newborn afforded.  It was foreign (though not unpleasant.)  My kids have no such inhibitions.  They hug, they cuddle, they keep each other in almost constant headlocks.  My four year old is ninja master of attack hugs from behind.  The two year old isn't an ankle biter, he's more of an ankle clinger.  They literally need physical contact to grow, both bodily and mentally.  So - they touch.  They reach out.  They grab and cling to me.
Love the Lord your God, serve Him, and cleave unto (cling to) Him...  Deuteronomy 11:22

7.  Kids are so tough.
My boys aren't very breakable.  They've fallen down the stairs.  They've gotten up close and personal, at high speed, with the pavement beneath their bikes.  They've been bumped, and scraped, and smushed, and strained - all within just the last week.  My two year old son has had a handful of surgeries already - spine, brain, the nether regions...  The surgical wounds healed in days.  I would be a miserable helpless ball of pain for weeks if you did that stuff to me.  I think often they must be made of rubber.  They feel pain, certainly, and cry, and come limping to Mom for a hug and a band aid.  But within minutes, even if they're still bleeding, they are back to giggling and playing.
Be strong and of good courage... Joshua 1:6

8.  Kids are powerful.
Arrows filling up my quiver.  Children are often looked at as lumpy, snotty baggage in our culture.  They are expensive, time-wasting, whining debt makers that only the people who've already lived the good life are supposed to condescend to birth, twice, maybe three times, and then raise them to school age, at which point they can finally get back to their real, meaningful lives and careers.  (That may be a bit overblown; I'm trying to make a point.)  I'll admit, when I think of my kids, I don't always look at them as gifts, rewards, and or even as particularly useful.  Arrows?  Arrows are tools, exactingly made for a purpose.  They are mighty.  Arrows have the power to kill; they can be used to start or end wars, to make provisions, to hit a mark.  I've seen my littlest kids melt the stern demeanor of the most stoic old women.  Careless hard living men have had their seared consciences smote by innocent eyes of children staring up at them.  They've certainly been used to shape my life.  They've helped define my purpose and priorities; their very weaknesses make me bolder to fight, and gladly.  They are gifts, precious, costly, and I will defend them as such.  I hope God uses each of them to show the way into the joy of His kingdom for many more.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but speak with their enemies in the gate.  Psalm 127:4-5

I wouldn't go back to being five again.  Those were fun days of running around in tutus, playing Barbies, catching frogs, and being generally amazed by puffy clouds, graham crackers and apple juice.  I reveled in the good that God did, taking it for granted.  I wouldn't go back, because I want to be the mommy and wife that I get to be now, but I don't want to forget those innocent days.
Jesus liked to refer to himself as the Son of Man.  He didn't say he was King of the World, though he was.  He didn't say he was the Man of all men, though he was.  Not the macho-ist, or the wisest, or the richest, strongest, or nicest, though he definitely was.  He identified himself as a son.  One who was younger, simpler, humbler than the grownups.  Though he had it all, knew it all, was it all, he became a squalling helpless infant.  A dirty, tousled, sniffly preschooler.  An awkward, bucktoothed 8 year old.  An acne-prone, hormonal teenager.  And he did it on purpose.
...For of such is the kingdom of God.  Mark 10:14

That settles it.  I'm digging out a graham cracker from the stash in the diaper bag and going to spend some time with my Father.  Every Bible can handle a few crumbs between the pages sometimes.  It could be the forgotten secret to making 5 a.m. look a bit brighter now that I'm so old.  If not, there's always Cheerios...