Weekend Alone

The sun is out! The sky is blue and crisp and the air warm. It’s a gorgeous day in western Washington.

Joshua worked on the yard this morning before heading out to the doctor’s office. Doesn’t he look cheerful. Now if we can just get rid of the weeds I’ll be smiling too!

We have spent every afternoon, since Monday, at the pool. Somehow, however, I haven’t taken a single picture. How can that be?? I’ll remedy that as soon as possible. I’m sure it’s because, when we travel, we carry bags with towels and sunscreen and swim floats, not to mention crackers and snacks of some sort. I bring a bag of reading material for myself, keys, cell phone, water bottle, etc. Each child has a bag of their own and is responsible for their towel and goggles and any other swim paraphernalia they would like. We exit the van with full hands–I’m sure we are quite a sight. Ha!

4 kiddos
Need to photoshop out that trash can–adorable kids but not exactly a scenic background.

I’m just thrilled with this pool membership. I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition to our summer. It’s fairly expensive but I think we will get our fair share of fun out of the money. We calculated how many times we would need to go to bring the price down to lower than guest fees (cost $3 per person as a guest). So far we’ve been four times and Joshua and Tim take great delight in counting down the remaining necessary pool visits.

One of the greatest benefits of the pool is something I hadn’t even figured into my calculations–Mommy relaxation time! When we go to the pool I am forced to relax–I can’t do laundry or wash dishes or tidy up the house. All I can do is read, write, play with the children or visit with friends. What a gift! I hadn’t really expected the pool to result in a more relaxing summer for myself, I only thought of what fun it would be for the children. [Of course, since I'm not home I'm also not making dinner so we'll have to work on that aspect of things. Ha!]

Today, with the sun blazing and the temperature warm, is a perfect day for a long afternoon at the pool. Instead, I’m sitting alone in the family room, not another soul in sight. Ahh, the bliss of an empty house. Of course, there are many reminders of children all around–a huge white teddy bear of Daniel’s from his time at the children’s hospital, a little doll house and Playmobil of Sarah’s, Rachel’s dress shoes she left on the floor, and so on.

Sarah and the backpack
Sarah is ready to go–only 5 more hours!

The children themselves, however, are happily off with their grandparents, driving out to the Duckabush for a weekend away. Hooray!! For our anniversary, Tim’s parents gave us a certificate for a babysitting session. Aren’t they wonderful to take the children for the weekend. I have two hours here by myself in the house before Tim gets home. Tonight we’ll go to the theater to see a play. Tomorrow we have the whole day to ourselves (including sleeping in as long as we like!!!) and then we’ll pick up the children Sunday morning.

Here’s a boy who is ready for the Duckabush!

Tim and I have been tremendously blessed to have parents (on both sides) who are willing to watch all five of our children. They are extremely supportive of our decision to have a big family (mind you, compared to some friends, five isn’t that large of a family) and help out as often as they can. Not only do Tim and I benefit in having some time to ourselves, to reflect and enjoy each other alone, but the children gain a deeper relationship with their grandparents.

I’m very thankful!

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The Hearts of the Fathers

Kathy has been reading a parenting book by home-schooling authors Steven and Teri Maxwell to me lately … persevering cheerfully against my resistant and somewhat unteachable spirit. As a rule, I don’t have much patience for non-fiction, and I am quick to be critical of the writing style of many such authors. Of course, this has the happy (unintended?) side-benefit of plugging my ears to those who would challenge me to change – and so I can continue my pursuit of mediocrity.

(Parenthetically, it is rather ironic that I myself write non-fiction, with only occasional forays into the more difficult arena of the imagination. I find it particularly amusing that my main complaint against non-fiction authors is that many of them take so long to say so little; yet this very accusation can be made against me in most of my blog entries. I guess the only ‘moral high ground’ that I can occupy is that I am unpublished and therefore am wasting the time of only a few friends and family members. Perhaps, under the covers, my dislike of non-fiction is mere jealousy. That said, I happily disregard proverbs that speak of the “pot calling the kettle black” or “people in glass houses throwing stones”, and press on.)

A lesser-known proverb is: “People with blackberry patches shouldn’t throw neighbor boys’ shoes around their backyard.”

The parenting book (Keeping Our Children’s Hearts) speaks, not surprisingly, to the idea of ‘capturing the heart’ of children, so that they are tightly bound up in an intimate relationship with the parents and the rest of the family. Thinking forward a few years, as my older kids reach their teen years, I am open to anything that can offer me hope that I can protect my future teenagers from themselves and from those who would prey upon them.

Also not surprisingly, one of the first topics of discussion in this book deals with the need for the parents to ‘turn their hearts toward their children’. This is rooted in scripture, and appears in Malachi 4:6 (and is quoted again in the gospels, including Luke 1:17). It prophesies the advent of the spirit of Elijah (John the Baptist), who prepares the way for Jesus:

“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

Anyone who has been a kid has probably dealt with a two-faced peer or grown-up who acts in a warm and friendly manner for a short while in order to get something they want. Sometimes they desire the good will of the parent, or are seeking some temporary advantage … but it isn’t long before their true uncaring nature is revealed. For this reason, even young children will quickly master the skill of separating the phony from the genuine.

If you asked me, “Is your heart turned toward your children?” I would of course answer “Yes.” I’m a good father, I think, and I work hard to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of my family, teaching my children from the scriptures and raising them up in a godly and loving home. I am reasonably patient and try very hard to be just and kind.

But suppose you pressed me, and asked, “If you got home from work today, and had two free hours to spend however you wished, how would you spend them?”

Truth be told, I’d probably play a computer game by myself. Lately, I’ve been enjoying Age of Empires III. Unfortunately, this doesn’t demonstrate (at least in that microcosm) a lot of ‘turning my heart toward my children’. Why wouldn’t I spend that two hours playing games with my kids, or reading them a book, or riding bikes with them, or letting them do chores alongside me?

Or even just talking (or being talked-at)?

I don’t really have a good answer for that question, except for the obvious (and rather painful) reason: because I’m self-indulgent. Life has come easily to me (for the most part) and I am a man who is weak in spirit, in the sense that I have rarely needed to discipline or steel myself to long-term perseverance or excessive diligence.

One outgrowth of the men’s group led by our pastor this year has been the exercise of my spirit … by setting goals and being held accountable for them, I’ve begun to develop some spirit muscles that I haven’t used in a long time. Still, my spirit quails when I consider limiting or giving up my entertainment … it is hard to do the right thing when your muscles are atrophied from a life of taking the easy path.

I try to visualize what it would look like if my heart were really turned toward my children. If that was so, it would be the rare exception, rather than the everyday rule, that I would pursue my own interests apart from my family. When I walked in the door, my first thought would be to listen to my children report on their day (they all want to tell me at least 5 things) rather than checking my e-mail. Before dinner, I would seek to have a ‘special day’ with the next-in-line child as often as possible, rather than sticking to the minimum of 2 a week as set out in my goals. When we sat down to dinner, I would seek to teach them something rather than watching a movie. When dinner was over, I would help with the dishes or play games with them or go for a walk rather than play my computer game. When it was time for bed, I would seek to make the most of the ‘chapter time’ Bible reading, rather than rush through it so I could get back to my game or get to bed myself. I guess every day would look like an abbreviated version of last year’s Fathers Day.

In general, I would jealously guard the time I spend with my children and prioritize it above anything that is self-serving. Admittedly, work around the house that really needs to be done, time with my wife, and time worshipping and serving my Lord may still occasionally ‘outrank’ time with my children … but most of the ‘free’ time that I currently guard and protect is really time that I just want to spend on myself.

I’m enjoying a narrow window of life in which my children are old enough to have fun at or near my level of sophistication (OK, I’ll admit, that level isn’t very high), yet still young enough to want to spend time with me. Nearly everyone I know who has grown children has told me at one time or another, “Those early years go by pretty fast … enjoy them while you can.” Why shouldn’t I make the most of every opportunity to love and cherish my kids? Why shouldn’t I be genuine in turning my heart toward my children, putting them ahead of my own self in the way that I use free time?

Who could fail to turn their heart toward these little faces?

These aren’t really rhetorical questions. There is no reason for me not to do this. Therefore, I hereby resolve to place a limit of 1 use-or-lose hour of solitary computer-game-playing per weekday (2 hours on weekends or holidays). I resolve to turn my heart toward my children and to love and cherish them above myself. I also resolve to welcome any who seek to hold me accountable on this, and not to become resentful or hard-hearted toward them.

One of the ladies in our small group Bible study recently reminded me of an acronym for JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself. I think I want to put that on our wall … thinking of Jesus first, Others second, and myself third is an excellent recipe for joy, as I have many times experienced.

Whew! Now if I can just ‘forget’ to publish this …

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Where has the sunshine gone?

I’m afraid our sunny summer days seem to be few and far between here in Western WA. We’ve had a run of cloudy, grey days lately. I don’t mean to complain since it’s far better than rain but I do love the sunshine.

Washing the car
Don’t be fooled by those smiling faces–it is NOT warm enough to be washing cars.

We have a picnic planned for tomorrow but I don’t think we’re going to need sunglasses. Ha! Ahh well, getting together with friends is a cheerful diversion whatever the weather.

We’re continuing with our homeschooling through the summer. I’ve tried to cut back as much as I could (to give the illusion of a summer vacation for the kiddos) but still keep things structured and focused on some learning. I’ve found too much freedom results in whiny, bored children not to mention what it does to their mastery of math facts.

David will be in kindergarten next year which is exciting. Those early grades offer all the fun of schooling with few of the drawbacks. Everything is interesting and new and fun. The world of reading is right at his finger tips but we can stop at any time to spend the rest of the day playing. I’m already eager to start him on some early math books. We’ll have to do some tweaking of our schedule to keep Sarah entertained while David’s school increases. Thankfully Sarah is able to play contentedly on her own.

Pool prison
Summer 2005–Sarah makes sure Daniel is behaving!

If the weather ever heats up we plan to join the local pool. Last summer I resisted that idea as we had our own above ground pool and were gone for so much of the summer. This year David has been taking swimming classes at the Y and is much more comfortable in the water. We aren’t participating in any of the Y camps–we actually put our membership on hold this summer which frees up some money for a pool membership. Our Wal Mart pool died last year with several rips in the bottom (our fault–surely I can find some pictures of that little miscalculation).

Sliding pool
Although it seemed like a GREAT idea, it turns out a plastic pool (with a rather thin bottom) can NOT handle the wear and tear of a jungle gym placed on top of it. Oops! That was a costly mistake.

All in all a membership to the country club pool right here in our neighborhood sounds like a good idea. The pool doesn’t open until noon (swim classes in the morning) which dove tails nicely with our summer homeschooling schedule.

Now if we can just get some nice, hot summer days.

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Shilo Sleepovers

I wanted to be sure and post some of the pictures from our visit with Mamie and Grandad (my parents). Usually we travel to Michigan to see my family. The past two years we have been blessed with tickets (no small gift for a family of 7). Two years ago my dad’s church surprised my parents by flying us to Michigan for the big 25th anniversary. They brought us out on stage in the middle of the ceremony for my father. That was a special moment! We stayed in Michigan for several weeks.

playing cards
Notice there are actually two different games in action here.

Last year my father was awarded a three month sabbatical. Part of the sabbatical included a week at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference Center. We had a lovely time with the family (all three of my brothers came as well).

Dan, Thom and Phil with Chase and Aydia

This year my youngest brother, Phil, got engaged. There was some talk of an October wedding so we decided to save our Michigan trip for the fall. We love to spend some time in Fort Clark, Texas each August so we settled upon that as our family vacation this summer. When Phil’s wedding plans shifted to June 2007, Mom and Dad began to talk of coming to WA to visit us. Hooray!! It certainly is more economical for two to travel than seven. August seemed like such a long time to wait until we could be together again, so I was thrilled to hear of the possibility of a May visit.

The children will miss the fun of going to Mamie and Grandad’s house in Michigan–the tractor rides, playing in the creek out back, the big tree fort, cousin time, and so on–but the essence and joy of the visit comes from being WITH Mamie and Grandad, it’s the relationship and not the location that is important.

And so we thoroughly enjoyed our week long visit. We ate out several times (Tim usually tried to steal the check).

Mexican dinner
Here we are enjoying a delicious Mexican meal.

The kids took turns sleeping over at the hotel with Mom and Dad. One night they took the older four and the day next all five slept over. What luxury for Tim and me–sleeping in! These are some special grandparents.

reading girls
Girls night out–everyone has to bring a book!

We swam and swam at the hotel. We read books, played games and watched movies. Mom and Dad were able to see some of our co-op day as they joined us for the final friends and family presentation ceremony.

Posing around the hot tub

We introduced them to several of our friends at church–Tim even led the Sunday School class on James chapter 4. Dad helped out with several home projects–he installed a screen door on the front and back doors and put new light fixtures in the hall way and Joshua’s room.

Traditional shaving time with Grandad–Girls allowed??

It was a very satisfactory visit. The sun even came out for the last two days. On Wednesday Tim worked from home and I was able to drive my parents to the airport. The older three children woke up early and went with me to the hotel (had to sneak in one more swim and continental breakfast).

Saying goodbye

One last gathering before off to the airport.

Joshua came with me to the airport. Goodbyes are always difficult. They are made more bearable when I know we have the next visit already planned. We will end our summer with almost two weeks of family time in Texas. We are hoping my mom’s two sisters will join us for some of the time (they grew up spending their summers in this little corner of Texas). There is also some possibility that my brothers and their families will come as well.

Dinner at the Outback

Sometimes I think of the people I have met over the years and all the ways I have been blessed by godly friendships. My best friend from junior high/high school and I met our (future) husbands while spending a week working with Habitat for Humanity. I had wonderful roommates in college. Everywhere Tim and I have lived we have been a part of couples Bible studies and Sunday School classes. Life and jobs and family move us around from place to place and, even with the internet, it’s difficult to stay in touch with people. I wonder in amazement at what heaven will be like. We will have eternity to spend with the Lord and other dear friends. All the believers we have met through the wandering of our lives will be there. It will surely be like coming home. So when I occasionally feel sad about the friends that have come and gone in my life and ones I know it’s unlikely I’ll ever see again or at least live near them again, I rejoice in the hope that our paths will cross again in the heavenly realm. I have our future visit already planned.

2 Peter 3:13
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.


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