Sunday, January 27, 2013

Allyson's New Look

For today's entry, I'm going to post an interview with my six-year-old daughter Allyson about her new hairstyle. After strongly rejecting all my previous suggestions of cutting her long hair (because I have absolutely no hair styling skills), she abruptly announced a couple of weeks ago that she wanted to get a bob cut. I waited long enough to make sure she wouldn't change her mind, and then this past Friday we went to the kids' haircut place....

What made you decide to cut your hair after all this time?
I don't know. I just wanted to. I think I can put more stuff (like bows and hairbands) in it when it's short.

Were you scared about cutting off your long hair?

How about when you were sitting in the stylist's chair? Were you scared, or excited?
Sorta in the middle.

What was your favorite part of the experience?
When they said, "Wow! Your hair is so long and thick."
Allyson on the Morning of the Big Day
Did you enjoy the shampooing?
It was cool having them wash my hair. I couldn't even feel that it was wet.

Was it hard to sit still and keep your head straight during the haircut?
Yes. Actually, really hard. I was sorta worried it would be crooked.
Allyson Under Cheryl's Expert Care

What did you talk about during the cut?
Most of the time I couldn't open my mouth [because she had to keep her chin on her chest]. But we talked about the movie Tangled, which I was watching. She said her favorite character was the horse. My favorite was Flynn Rider.

How did you like the final result?
I think it looked more me than having it long. I LOVE it.

What's your favorite, the front or the back?
I love the swoop on the front. (A little tapered section, like long bangs.)

Is it the length you wanted it?
It's a little shorter than I thought it would be, but I like it that way.

Is it hard to take care of?
It's easier than it was, but still a little hard with the styling.

How does your hairstyle make you feel?
I feel like an older girl. I think everyone will like it.

Are you excited about going to school tomorrow?
Very excited. I cannot wait.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about the experience?
I was amazed at how much hair there was on the floor.

Well, there you have it. It's been fun watching Allyson preening, just as I did when I got my own new look last July.

Update: Allyson asked me to add a question for myself:

Allyson: Did you like my hair better than before?
Me: Yes! I think you look absolutely gorgeous, princess.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's Like God Sent Them to Us

Okay, here's the happy story I've been saving for about two weeks now...

On Wednesday the 9th, I was feeling pretty blue on the way to the office, so I called my dear friend Gentle, who never fails to lift my spirits. Sure enough, she had many encouraging words, including a scripture she'd found during her Bible study that morning. She said she thought of me when she read it, and she prayed it over me. Here was the verse:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

In that moment, I felt pretty courageous. But with the distractions of work, I soon forgot about the verse. While I was driving home, Gentle called and told me she had a surprise for me, something she'd made. She was laughing with delight, but she wouldn't give me even a hint of what it was. Of course, I swung by her house immediately.

Here's what I found:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

My eyes filled with tears when I saw the plaque she had hand lettered in beautiful colors. Just that morning, I'd mentioned being moved by the Serenity Prayer at Celebrate Recovery, and she wanted me to have a daily reminder. So she just whipped out this little masterpiece! (It's now hanging over my desk, so I can look at it all during my work day.)

I was in high spirits when I brought Allyson home from school. As usual, Allyson scampered to the mailbox. "What are these?" she asked, holding out two cardboard cylinders.

"I don't know," I said. "I didn't order anything. Hmm... But these do have my name on them." After a moment's thought, I concluded that they must be some sort of inspirational posters from work, nothing to get excited about--not that I don't need inspiration, mind you.

Inside, we threw everything on the floor and went straight to the kitchen table with the tubes. "Open them, Mama!" Allyson said. I was already struggling to pry the lid off of the first canister.

Inside was a wall decal imprinted with a scripture. Can you guess what it said? I bet you can. Yep, it was another sacred echo, the coolest yet!

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Of course, I thought of Gentle. I initially thought this was the same verse she'd read me that morning, but then I realized that her verse was from Deuteronomy, while this one was from Joshua. Still, Gentle knew I wanted to plaster my walls with scriptures, and this was just the sort of thing she would do.

I fired off a text: "Did you send me scripture decals? I got two. One is the verse about being strong and courageous."

Her answer set my heart thudding. "No!!"

What were the odds that God would lay a verse on Gentle's heart for me in the morning, and on the very same afternoon the same message would mysteriously land in my mailbox? I'm thinking God really wants me to get the message: Don't be afraid! I'm always with you!

Allyson and I practically danced a jig with excitement. "Who could have sent them?" I said over and over.

"It's kind of nice not knowing," Allyson said. "That way it's like God sent them to us."

"Well, I'm sure He did, honey."

When I opened the second canister, I had an idea who my angel might be; over breakfast the previous Saturday, I'd told my friend Jenny that the first verse I wanted to put up in my house was Joshua 24:15.

I emailed Jenny, and she fessed up. What an incredible gift! I will feel both her love and God's every time I look at those scriptures.

Here's the ironic thing. After reading the meticulous directions, I was decidedly un-courageous about putting them up on the wall. One wrong move, and a decal could be wrecked. So I called for reinforcements. Gentle has lots of experience with wall decals, and she was happy to help--okay, to do it all while I stood by and prayed that the letters would stick.
Gentle and Her Helper

I think it took almost an hour. The end result was flawless:

I'd like to conclude with the full Serenity Prayer. Previously, I'd been familiar with only the first part. I love every word of it, and I'm trusting God to help me put it into practice.
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
(Emphasis added... the parts that make me cry)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Who's In the Mood for IHOP?

For months and months, I haven't had a lot to say to you. It just seemed that nothing blog-worthy was happening to me, probably because my sense of humor seemed to have departed. It's been a rough few weeks, yet now the blog stories are starting to stack up in my head like they used to. Only now I don't have time to write them. Tonight I'd planned to tell you a particularly wonderful and amazing story that I've been saving up for over a week, but something else happened that I just have to share....

This evening I met four girlfriends for a birthday celebration. We met at Brio, a great Italian restaurant where we talked and laughed and ate way too much, and then laughed some more.

Afterward, we walked over to the theatre next door. When Fran stepped up to the counter, she cheerfully said, "One senior ticket for... which movie are we seeing?" [Senior moment?]

We all laughed. "Parental Guidance," we chorused.

"That'll be six dollars," the teenage clerk said. "That's a discount of three dollars. There are perks to being a senior!"

"Yes," Fran agreed.

"Hey, you should go to IHOP [International House of Pancakes]. They've got great senior discounts there."

Fran nodded, barely able to contain her laughter. When I stepped up to the window, I heard roars of laughter as Fran repeated the conversation. Laughing, I asked for a senior ticket, too.

The boy didn't laugh. "That'll be six dollars," he said, sliding the ticket through the slot.

My grin faltered. "Hey, I'm not a senior! I was joking."

He shrugged. "I'd say take the ticket and run," he answered. And then he said something about IHOP, which made me wonder if he thought I was lying about not being a senior.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. So I laughed. And then I laughed again while I repeated the whole conversation to the girls.

The movie was really, really good. It was funny and sweet and touching. When it was over we sat there for a minute, talking about our favorite parts. "It's too early to go home," Joanne said. "We should stay out."

"What time is it?" asked Fran.

"About 9:15."

"That's 10 minutes past my bedtime," Fran said.

"Since we're seniors," Rhonda said, "We should go to IHOP."

"Fran, you'll have to share your senior discount with us," Leisa said.

"You too, Sarah!" Rhonda said.

We laughed all the way to the car. And I smiled all the way home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's Sleeting Styrofoam Balls!

Remember that time I mistook a Kix cereal ball on my living room floor for a hailstone? Well, I made a similarly ridiculous mistake the other morning. As Allyson and I raced out on our daily dash to school Monday, I shuddered at the cold. The temp had dropped to a frigid 29 degrees (-2 Celsius) overnight, most unusual for our area.

It wasn't until I'd careened out of the driveway that I noticed a most perplexing sight. Stacked on top of both windshield wipers were precariously balanced piles of tiny, perfectly uniform white balls. I squinted at them as I rounded the corner. A few pieces lost their balance, carried away on the wind. Weren't those... Styrofoam balls? The kind you see in packing material? But how? Why? Who?

It had to be one of Ethan's friends playing a trick, I concluded. What a bizarre prank!

"Look at those little Styrofoam balls!" I exclaimed. "I wonder who put them there."

"What balls?" Allyson asked, from the backseat. "Oh, I see them. Weird!"

As we waited at the stoplight next to the school--seven minutes till the bell and counting--I glanced at the cars ahead, trying to guage whether we'd make the next light or whether Allyson would be tardy. I leaned forward when I saw something familiar on the truck in front of me: a faint trail of white lining the cracks in the rear bumper.

For a fraction of a section I marveled at the coincidence. Two neighborhood vehicles targeted in a Styrofoam prank! No, wait a minute. Weren't there balls on the windshield of that white SUV next to me, too?

The light finally dawned in my sleepy, addled mind.  "Sleet!" I said as the light turned green and I fought the instinct to gun it through the school zone. I shook my head in disbelief, pressing my lips together in a sheepish smile. Sometimes I wonder about myself!

"What's sleet?" Allyson asked. "Oh, is it like hail?"

"Yes, only smaller. But I've never seen such perfect balls of sleet before. They're usually slushy and stuck together."

By the time I dropped Allyson off and pulled into the line out of the parking lot--with two minutes to spare, woo-hoo!--the tiny balls had started to melt into slush:

But I found these perfect specimens on top of the trash bin back at home:

The little balls were everywhere, actually: on the roof, the grass, the bushes. I was surprised I had missed them on the way out.

Chances are you're wondering why I would get so excited about a bit of sleet. Well, we don't get much frozen precipitation around here. So you can imagine how excited we were the next day when we woke up to this:

Ethan would have been even more excited if there'd been no school for the day, but no such luck. Sure was pretty while it lasted.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Vancouver Visit and Family Pasta Night

In my last entry, I mentioned that I've been saving up some happy stories to share. Here they are...

Vancouver 2012
On Christmas day we went for what will most likely be our last family vacation, and probably my last trip to Vancouver as well. For that reason, the whole experience was very bittersweet.

We had a rough start as our plane was initially delayed by about 20 minutes, during which time snow started falling thickly. "Ooh! Look at the pretty snow!" Allyson and I exclaimed. (We don't get much snow in Texas.)

We wouldn't have been so excited had we known that that snow would cause us about a six-hour delay. First, we waited interminably for de-icing. Just when we were next in line, a flight attendant announced that we were returning to the gate. Due to a federal law passed to "protect our comfort," we could not remain on the tarmac more than 2.5 hours. "Merry Christmas," she said wryly.

So we sat at the gate another hour or so while they figured out what to do next. While we ate federally mandated cookies and had a sip of federally mandated water, the flight attendant explained that most of us would probably miss our connections in Seattle, and there was no guarantee we could get a later flight. She cheerfully added that there was no guarantee that we could get a flight the next day, either. And the airlines was not going to pay for accommodations in Seattle since the snow was not their fault. (They conveniently forgot that we would have missed the snow had we departed on time.) Also, if we were to exceed the 2.5 hour maximum wait again, our flight would be canceled. "Merry Christmas," she concluded. About a third of the passengers disembarked, including my seatmate. Sweet! Now it was just me and Ethan in the back row, right across from the toilets that were probably near to overflowing by the end of our ordeal.

We decided to take our chances and stay on the plane. About two hours later,  we were de-iced and in the air! And after about ten hours on the plane, we arrived in Seattle. When we landed, we found we'd been automatically booked on the 11 P.M. flight, about three hours later. But Bill's dad had driven down to pick us up, so we claimed our luggage and climbed in the car for a 2.5-hour drive. I think we all preferred that to boarding another plane.

So we arrived at the house shortly before midnight. Despite the late hour, we sat down for Mom's customary soup and sandwiches. Delicious!

The rest of the trip went much better. The highlight for me was an 85-minute massage at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, compliments of Mom. This was a wonderful blessing as I'd been longing for a massage for months. I also greatly enjoyed soaking in the hot pools, which were heated by the local hot springs.

Or maybe the highlight was playing cards and dominoes with Bill's family--especially when I beat them all on New Year's Eve.

For the  kids the best part was probably skiing at Hemlock Mountain, where Allyson had her first lesson. She had the 16-year-old instructor all to herself, and he did a great job with her. It must have been rather harrowing for him to ski behind her on the tow rope; she usually ended up sliding backward when she got off, and he had to catch her before she knocked all the other beginners down like dominoes.

Looks Like She's Playing Twister

Practicing Her "Pizza" Stance
At the end of 1.5 hours, the instructor pronounced her ready for the easiest chair lift, and Bill bravely took her up. He said she got off the chair easily enough, and then she took off down the mountain at breakneck speed. I guess she forgot her pizza and went with french fries instead. Daddy had told her to sit down if she couldn't stop, so she tried to sit but ended up in a tuck position and went even faster. At last she fell, flipped, and got a face full of snow. (That's the way she tells it, anyway. Bill says it wasn't such a bad fall.)

She'd made it about a third of the way down the slope, but now she was spooked. It took 30 minutes or so to go the rest of the way down because she'd ski about six feet and then make herself fall down. But they finally made it to the bottom, all in one piece.

Allyson's cousin James learned to ski also. Trevor pushed him up the bunny slope over and over, and he fearlessly skied down. For the next day or two, he kept saying, "I love to ski."
James (Age 4) and Bill's Brother Trevor
I'm told Ethan has now totally mastered snowboarding, but I never got to see him this time. I wish I had a picture to share.

We also went walking along the sea wall at White Rock Beach. The kids enjoyed looking for crabs and shells.

Katie, Allyson, James
Katie and Allyson

Mom limited each child to two shells. "Can I keep one, too?" I asked. She smiled and nodded. I had found a lovely purple clam shell. I brought it home as a reminder that--for a clam, at least--a painful bit of sand results in the iridescent beauty of a pearl. I pray beauty comes out of my pain as well.

As always, there was one sumptuous meal after another, plus all our favorite treats, including way too much shortbread. I gained five much-needed pounds while I was there. I also caught up on my sleep. One morning I even slept until 11! I don't remember the last time I slept that late.

I have to share one more airport misadventure that occurred when we landed in Dallas. As we exited the Jetway, I stopped and bent over to put some books into my carry-on bag. I didn't notice that the man ahead of me had stopped also and was bending over to put something in his bag. Nor did I notice that he had about three inches of pasty white butt crack sticking out of the top of his sagging jeans. So when I stood back up, I very nearly put my nose where the sun don't shine! I all but yelped as I backed away. Bill caught my eye, and we both cracked up, so to speak. It felt good to laugh with him.

Family Pasta Night
The night after our return, Allyson and I went over to Uncle Rick's for what I hope was the first of many Family Pasta Nights. Rick and Mindy had prepared the dough ahead of time, and I helped knead it. Then we passed it through all six settings on Mindy's new pasta roller. Allyson manned the crank, and the rest of us took turns feeding the dough in and catching it as it came out.

Here's how it looked on the first setting:

By the last setting, it was 10 or 12 feet long!
Rick, Mindy, and Rick's Friend Dave

Here's how it looked after we cut it into segments and ran it through the cutter attachment: 

We served it with Gorgonzola walnut Alfredo sauce and roasted kale. For dessert we had Purdy's chocolates from Bill's mom. It was all unbelievably delicious, better than a fancy restaurant!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It's Still Being Written

I have a couple of happy stories stored up to tell you, but I'm going to save those for another day. One of them is about our annual trip to Vancouver, which was both better than I expected and harder than I anticipated. But I don't have custody of the camera, and I want to share the pictures with the story.

Tonight, I want to share my heart with you. It's been a tough, tough day. A relapse day, when I've wanted to pick up the reins again instead of trusting God with my future. Today I've been thinking that I really can't be happy unless my life turns out the way I wanted it to, the way I thought it would. I've been thinking that God's love is really not enough to satisfy me. Oh, I know all the verses about God giving me a hope and a future, and all things working together for my good, and the plan He's had for me since before I was born. But my heart isn't listening. I just feel heavy, broken, empty.

So it's a good thing that I had my first Celebrate Recovery session tonight. There I met a lot of messed up people, just like me. But the good news is that they are celebrating recovery. The first principle of recovery is exactly what I need at this moment:

  • Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. (Step 1)
    “Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.”

And the third, even more:

  • Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. (Step 3)
    “Happy are the meek.”

On the drive home, I remembered an experience I had on the plane home from Vancouver last Thursday. I'd been feeling sorry for myself, fighting tears, when I suddenly thought about the mercy God has shown me over the last 12 years, and how I'm not the woman I was back then. I wrote a letter to God, thanking Him for the experiences and people He brought into my life, always at just the right time. I thanked him for leading me to Psalm 139 in a hotel room, for connecting me with the Thursday Group, for helping me push past my awkwardness and grow a friendship with Gentle, and for bringing Laura to me.

And then I realized something so important: No, I'm not the woman I once was. And I'm also not the woman I'm going to be. Here's what I wrote about that:
I thought the testimony I shared at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) was so beautiful, how you worked in all things for my good, even in my sin. I don't know if I would have ever known my need for a savior if I hadn't come into such shame....  
The last seven months have been such agony for me. I'm suffering still.... Even though I've wavered in my faith many times, I feel much closer to you than ever before. I realize my desperate need for a savior, a redeemer.

I know my testimony is still being written. This is hard mercy! But I know you are merciful. You are removing everything I don't need out of my life. When I come out of this trial, I'll be a different woman. I'll have such compassion. I'll be able to love even more. You will use my pain to minister to others who are suffering. Your glory will be revealed in me. It will be worth every tear, every sleepless night. 

And I know there will be joy for me. I have no idea what that will look like, but I will laugh and dance for joy. One day I will look back on this time and see your hand at work. I will know why it was necessary for me to hurt so much.

I don't know why I felt compelled to share this with you tonight. But I look forward to the day when I'll post a link back to this entry and say, "See how God used this suffering for my good."

Please pray for me. Pray that I will surrender to His will and find the rest and peace that comes from obedience. And pray that He will continue to make His love real to me.


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