Friday, December 24, 2010

Your Dreams Come True

For the week leading up to Allyson's Christmas dance recital, we made her practice every evening to a video I had made at one of her class sessions. The tap routine, Let it Snow, was the hardest. After watching her struggle with the choreography, I decided to study the steps and tutor her at home. How hard could it be?

On our first evening rehearsal, I found out it's a lot harder than it looks. "Front-front, side-side, back-back, STOMP!" I hollered, but our feet weren't listening, and we kept stumbling over each other. Ethan rewound the video for us over and over, and gave us pointers as to what we were doing wrong. "Hey, it's a lot harder than it looks," I whined. "Why don't you try it?"

"Nah," he said.

"Mama, how can you help me if I'm better than you?" Allyson asked.

"That's a good question, baby. Just keep practicing."

She moaned and griped, and did very little actual practicing, but when the day of the recital arrived, some sort of Christmas miracle occurred. Maybe it was the glittery tutu or the feather boa. Anyway, Allyson became a ballerina. You could see it in her eyes; she believed.

She Flourished That Boa Around the House for Days

Her first dance was When You Wish Upon a Star, which couldn't have been more appropriate. Right there before our eyes, Allyson's Dreams Came True. My eyes filled with tears as I saw her sheer joy, but then I laughed when I saw her little "Hi, Mom!" wave. (Or maybe she was waving at Grandma, who happens to be her biggest fan.)

Later in the show came the dreaded tap number, and of course it all came out just fine. She wasn't perfect, but she had fun, even with the brush step--remember how she asked Jesus to help her with that one? And she NAILED the tough part that Ethan had helped us with. I was bursting with pride, and so was he when he watched the video a few days later.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the video Bill made. I tried to cut some of the ballet song, but I just couldn't; it was all too precious. See for yourself....

Did you see how perfect her third position was at the end of the first song? (Or maybe it was second position. Or maybe fourth. Anyway, wasn't she graceful?)

When the recital was over, she changed back into the regular Allyson:

Yep, that's our little ballerina.

Merry Christmas to you, and may all your dreams come true.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That's Ethan On the Cymbals!

We attended our third Christmas band concert the week before last, and it was the best one yet. It's amazing to see how the kids have progressed--and how they've grown. Just look at Ethan, who has morphed into a young man while I wasn't looking.

Here he is with his dad after the concert:

and with Grandma, his biggest fan other than Allyson:

Ethan plays percussion in the honors band, and he's quite talented. But he wasn't too enthused about this concert, where he'd be playing "only the bells and the wood block."

He didn't mention that he'd be starting out the first song with a solo on the bells, or that he'd end the second song with two triumphant clashes on the cymbals. I listened breathlessly, almost biting my nails. Would he make a mistake? Was he as nervous as I was?

I needn't have worried; he was cool as a cucumber.

Here are a few snippets. On the first clip, part of "Snow Day Celebration," listen for the tinkly bells at the very beginning (punctuated by a baby's shrill scream). On the second clip, from "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," watch his precision on the syncopated rhythms of the wood block. And then listen for Allyson's proud realization that her brother was playing the cymbals. Her "Woo-hoo, Ethan!" was even louder than mine.

All the way home, Allyson gushed about how much she loved the Mr. Grinch song, and how the cymbals were the best part. "I'm gonna play the cymbals when I grow up," she said. "And then I can bang them next to Ethan's ears and wake him up in the morning." (Not a bad idea, by the way.)

He pretended to shrug off her praise, but I could see his grin in the rear view mirror. When we got home, he surprised me by asking to watch the video of Allyson's Christmas dance recital (video forthcoming, I promise), which he had missed because he was at his dad's. His praise was just as glowing as Allyson's had been, and soon my heart was glowing as well. Though it's hard to tell sometimes, they really do love each other!

Note: If you are reading this post via Facebook or email, you can only view the video from the blog website. Just click the link to the original post at the bottom of the message.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Santa is Sure on the Ball

You know those crazy product caution labels you see sometimes, like this one on a stroller: "Remove child before folding"? You have to assume there is some rational reason for those words of caution, but usually it's pretty hard to imagine.

Well, at my family's Christmas celebration on Saturday, we came across a label we had no problem understanding. From Aunt Emily's family, Allyson got a "Fur Real" pet that loosely resembles a bunny, makes crazy noises, and zips across the floor like a mouse.
See Her Pretty Nails? Daddy Painted Them!

Ethan found a red sticker on the box that made me laugh out loud: "Caution: Keep away from children's hair!"  I wanted to take a picture of the sticker, but Bill threw the box away already. (He has a compulsion with scurrying around behind us and tidying up.)

There's also a permanent warning on the bottom of the bunny, but we didn't really need all that explanation.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a clue.

Anyway, Allyson has been giving that bunny's wheels a wide berth--but having SO much fun with it that she's all but forgotten her original Fur Real Pet, her beloved Allum. I'm sure they'll be best buddies again as soon as little Lulu's batteries wear out.

And In Other Allyson News...
Here is Allyson's latest craft project, which she thought up and executed entirely on her own while I was making dinner. After studying one of Ethan's early-reader science discovery books, she made a model of the solar system out of Bendaroos, complete with the sun and nine planets of varying sizes. (Is it supposed to be only eight planets now? I didn't have the heart to tell her.)

I remember making a model of the solar system in grade school, but not by choice. I bet the rest of my family remembers it too. It was a family project, which might have been fun if we weren't so frantic to finish it by the next morning.

I have a feeling the solar system project will be a lot easier with Allyson.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The One He Loves

A few of weeks ago, I started thinking about starting a new memory passage. It's always hard to let go of the old one, even though I know I'll keep reviewing it forever. I think my main hesitation is trying to discern what the next passage should be. There's always that niggling fear that this time God won't confirm my choice--this despite the fact that He has confirmed all ten of my previous passages, usually more than once.

Anyway, I've been leaning toward a passage in Ephesians:

 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. 
I feel most drawn to the verse about being rooted and established in the love of Christ; this is my prayer for myself and my children and my friends.

So this morning I reminded God that I was still waiting for my confirmation. "Is this the right passage, or do you want me to learn another one?... I really love this one! But I'm getting a little frustrated. Hasn't it been over a week since I asked you about it?" [Because a week is SUCH a long time, I know!]

Feeling a little pouty, I sat down with my stack of memory cards and quoted them, one by one. As the scriptures flowed off my lips, I kept sensing connections with the Ephesians passage. When I read about Jesus humbling himself and becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)--I was in awe of how much he loves me. "Oh, Jesus," I breathed. "You know how I have feared death in the past, and if I could get out of dying I would. Yet you took on human form, subjecting yourself to death, on purpose! And you did it because you loved us so. Help me grasp that love, Jesus!" Immediately, I thought of being rooted and established in his love, and grasping how long and high and deep is his love.

Then there was Psalm 103:11: "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him." Again I thought of the Ephesians passage.

Isaiah 43 reminded me that he has summoned me by name, for I am his; I am precious and honored in his sight, and he loves me.

Next was John 15: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love.... Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

I paused after Romans 8:39: "...neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Again I prayed, "Jesus, help me really understand this love. Let it get down deep inside me and change me forever.... I need to be rooted and established in your love, don't I? Is this you talking to me, God??"

I wasn't expecting anything from Isaiah 61, but verse 3 brought a thrill of recognition. "...They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." I closed my eyes and imagined the oak tree in our front yard, which isn't huge, but is growing so slowly and steadily. "Oh, Lord, make me strong like a mighty oak. I want to display your splendor." My thoughts turned to the oak tree's roots, spreading out and reaching down, down to the life-giving water. "I need to be ROOTED and established in your love," I repeated.

I smiled as I restacked the cards, keeping the current passage on top and scrambling the rest. "Lord, did you just confirm my passage through all my other passages? Or am I just imagining all these connections?"

I thought back to Bible study the day before, and I remembered something I had said during our discussion. I  asked whether Jesus had a special love for certain people, like his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the apostle John. "After all, doesn't John refer to himself over and over as 'the disciple Jesus loved'?" I asked. We talked it over and decided that Jesus did have a special love for John, maybe because of the relationship that John cultivated with him. Still, we agreed that Jesus didn't love everyone else any less because of it. For the first time, I passed from having a teeny bit of resentment for John's apparent arrogance to wanting to emulate him. "I think it would be good if all of us could be like John," I said. "I want to be able to say, 'I'm Sarah, the woman Jesus loves. I want that assurance to be at the core of me, what defines me.'"

When that conversation came back to me this morning, I recognized my own words as one more confirmation of my choice. "That's cool," I thought. "God has never used ME to confirm a memory passage before." But do you know what I said next? Maybe you know me well enough to guess.

"God, I feel pretty sure you've confirmed my passage, but in the past you've always confirmed it externally somehow. How do I know you've really been talking to me, and it's not just random thoughts? Could you please confirm the passage for me one more time?" I almost cringed at my own lack of faith. I felt like Thomas, who said he'd have to touch Jesus's scars before he could believe he had risen.

Well, I don't think God was mad at me. He might have been disappointed, but I'm sure he wasn't surprised. After all, he knows everything I'm going to say before a word is on my tongue (Psalm 139:4). In fact, He was already at work fulfilling my request, though I wouldn't know it for a couple of hours.

At the start of my 10:30 Pilates class, Karen led us through several pliƩs and lunges, showing us exactly how to stand. "Make sure your foot is deeply rooted," she said, and I was so shocked I almost lost my balance.

"Was that my sign, God?" I thought. Immediately the other voice spoke in my ear. "It's a coincidence. She's just giving instructions." But thinking back over six years of practicing Pilates, I couldn't think of a single time an instructor had used those words. "It's NOT a coincidence," I told myself, and I smiled all through Pilates, even through some pretty intense exertion.

After class, I hung around and told Karen about my morning, and how her words had confirmed what God was speaking to me. Her grin was even wider than mine. "Ephesians 3, right?" She explained that God had led her to that passage this morning while she was praying for a friend who was donating a kidney to his son today. "I prayed that the kidney would be deeply rooted and established, and that the family would be grounded in God's love today."

I stomped my foot in triumph. "I knew I felt something spiritual when you said, 'deeply rooted'! So that passage was for your friend, but maybe it was for me too."

"Oh, I'm sure it was," she agreed. "You need to start believing that God speaks to you."

Now I ask you, how does God do this? I don't know. All I know is, I'm Sarah, the woman Jesus loves.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Mama is a Tightwad!

On Friday we went to the most anticipated social event of Allyson's season: her friend Olivia's birthday party. It was held at an indoor inflatables place with giant, very unique bounce houses. There was one that looked like a pirate ship with a huge squid on top and a steep slide that ran straight down the middle. There was a bouncy basketball court and an obstacle course with a 12-foot Batman guarding the entrance. And there was a little Sesame Street  "neighborhood" for the small kids.

All the kids and a few of the parents came in their pajamas, and Allyson wore a brand-new set that we'd bought for the occasion. With all that running and jumping, she got really sweaty in those fleece jammies, but do you think she minded?

Here are all the guests posing with Batman's knees:

Not pictured are Ethan and his friend David, who were skulking around trying to escape notice at the "five-year-old birthday party." 

After the hour of jumping was up, we all trooped to the Blue Room for pizza, cupcakes, and ice cream. Actually, I turned down the cupcakes and ice cream but then drooled over Allyson's, which she barely touched. Man, that frosting smelled good!

In the party room, there was an inflatable throne where the birthday girl sat with each of her friends. Here she is with Allyson. See their matching rosy cheeks, and the way their hair styles are almost identical? (We sometimes get them confused when we see them from the back.)
Allyson, Olivia
After Allyson posed with Olivia, Bill nudged Ethan. "Why don't you and David go get your pictures made? We can upload them to Facebook and tell all your friends you were at the five-year-old birthday party."

"I don't care," Ethan said around a bite of fluffy purple frosting. "It was fun. They'd all wish they were here." But David sank lower into his seat.

When it was time for gifts, I thought back to the last few parties, at which Allyson practically sat in the laps of the birthday kids and even helped unwrap the paper in some instances. I pulled her into my lap and whispered in her ear, "Now give Olivia some space. Don't sit too close, and let her open her own presents, okay?"

"Can I get kind of close?" she whispered.

"Kind of," I said.

When Olivia got started, I was too busy chatting with my friend Carla to see if Allyson was following my instructions, and it's a good thing. I would have been MORTIFIED.

On the way home, I asked Bill how she did.

"Pretty well," he said. "She stayed back with the other kids. But did you hear what she said when Olivia opened her first present?"


"She yelled, 'Ooh! We saw that at the store. But Mama said it was too much!'"

"No! She didn't! Did anyone hear?"

"Well, maybe no one was paying attention."

What Allyson didn't explain was that we had been shopping for a $5 fill-in gift; we had already picked out a lovely illustrated story book for Olivia. Thank goodness I was oblivious to the whole thing.

After the gifts came the goody bags. Since there were several extra, Olivia's sister asked Ethan if he wanted one. Sensing the possibility of candy, he said, "Sure." He grabbed a balloon too, while he was at it.

When she offered a goody bag to David, he ducked his head and said, "No!" But then Ethan whispered, "Want me to get one for you?", and he nodded sheepishly.

Back at the car, Ethan stuffed his balloon into the trunk. For some reason, Bill found it hilarious that he'd taken a balloon. All the way home, he threatened to pop the trunk and let it float away. "No!" Ethan shrieked over and over.

"You better hope we don't hit a red light," Bill warned.

In our driveway, Bill put the car in Park and said, "Ready, set, go!" Ethan threw open his door just as he hit the trunk release button. Ethan dove into the trunk and rescued his balloon, but then the trunk came down on his shoulders.

All of us laughed hysterically. He wasn't hurt--much. His relief at saving the balloon probably overshadowed the pain.

I'm glad Ethan isn't too cool to play with balloons and jump in bounce houses. That time will come soon enough, I'm sure. In the meantime, I'm loving times like these.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

He Longs, Too

In just two weeks I'll be finished with my Bible study on the book of John, Called More Than This. I've so enjoyed this study, just as I knew I would. Shortly before I found out we'd be studying the book of John, I posted an entry about the amazing revelation in the first chapter of John: that Jesus is the Word, the same Word that created the entire universe, and when we meditate on the Word we can access the very power and authority of Jesus Christ.

When I posted that entry, my Aunt Carol sent me an email about it that so moved me. She shared the story of her own revelation through the book of John, which occurred decades ago when she read the entire book in one sitting. She said: 
It was like a personal revelation from God just for me.  He loved me! Everything I read had new meaning.  I would read and pray, read and pray and I could feel the power of God spiritually and physically. It colored all my life. This mountain top experience lasted not hours, not days or weeks but months. I can't think about it now without weeping.  But what I want to say was that John's revelation of Jesus as the Word of God, present from the beginning, the Creator of all things took on new meaning.  The Bible is the Word of God, Jesus.  And as I read the Gospel of John, it was so exciting.  John's teachings that Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Bread of life and Jesus is the Vine are all related and intertwined.
After I read her message, I decided to read the book of John again. I couldn't manage to read it all in one sitting, but I read it quickly, as I would read a fascinating novel. I remember distinctly the day when I read John 17. In it, Jesus prayed first for himself, that He would bring glory to God by completing the work He was sent to do (to die on the cross for our salvation). Next he prayed for his disciples, that God would protect them by the power of His name, and that he would set them apart by the truth of God's Word. As I read Jesus's prayer for his disciples, I wished that I could have been one of them, listening as Jesus prayed over me.

And then I came to Jesus's third prayer. Guess who he prayed for? Me!! Here's what He said:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
   24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
   25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
John 17:20-26 (emphasis added)
I can't express how thrilled I was that Jesus looked down through generations of believers to all who would believe in him, and prayed for us. At the moment when I read this, I could feel the unity with Jesus and the Father and all believers. It was glorious.

Chapter 17 was just as thrilling four months later, when we covered this chapter at Bible study last night. But this time something different captured my heart. At the end of the evening, we watched a segment of the movie The Gospel of John, a word for word enactment of all 21 chapters. I've been enthralled each week as I've watched the story come to life. But until last night, I could never really imagine that I was watching JESUS. It was just a movie.

I'm not sure what was different last night; probably it was the power of Jesus's words. Anyway, I forgot I was watching a movie. I heard Jesus praying for me and all the women around me, praying for our unity. When He said, "I want those you have given me to be where I am, and to see my glory," tears of wonder slipped down my cheeks.

For the first time, I realized that Jesus longs to be face to face with me just as much (more!) than I long to see his face. Of course, He can see me already, inside and out. He knows my very thoughts before I think them (Psalm 139:2, 4). But it's clear that He is longing for our reunion, and I think the reason for that is that He wants to watch as I behold his glory for the first time. Can you imagine?

When the movie clip ended, I didn't want to return to my puny "reality." I wanted to hear it again, and I will. I'm going to buy the movie and watch it with my family during this blessed Christmas season, when we celebrate our Savior's birth.

Merry Christmas!


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