Monday, December 27, 2010

Climbing Sand Dunes

Have you ever climbed a sand dune? I’ve done it in two different places—near the shores of Lake Michigan in northern Indiana, and at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southwest Colorado.

Climbing sand dunes is hard work.

With every step you take up the dune, your foot slides halfway back down. So you make progress, but very slowly. And while it is beautiful—even exhilarating at times—it is exhausting.

This fall semester has felt like climbing sand dunes to me.

Learning a new job at work. Being a new parent (every step is still new, even though we're more than a year into the parenting thing). Settling into a new house and wanting so badly to do the fun things—painting and decorating—but struggling just to go to bed with a clean kitchen every night. And just when we reached the point of being unpacked, organized and ready to tackle some house projects, we realized we were out of money. Overspent on our budget actually. So Josh and I both picked up some freelance projects to earn some of that cash back. To say the least, balance in life feels like an unattainable goal right now.

I AM making progress. But it is slow. And it feels like one step forward, one-half step back.

It is also a very strange place to be in because I unequivocally love everything I have invested myself in. Marriage, parenting, students, church. I don't think I've ever had a season in life where so much has been so good.

But in the two weeks before Christmas vacation, both my chiropractor and my dentist confirmed that I am carrying a lot of stress around in my body. I know they're right. I also know this is why I spent most of my Christmas vacation sick. When I finally slowed down, I got the worst respiratory crud that I've had in a while. For a couple of days I was pretty much on the couch. For the rest of the time, I have been coughing, sniffling and fighting a sore throat.

The good news is I have had little on the schedule and lots of time to rest—even sleep in, which is amazing. But still, I hate having spent my vacation that way.

I am not writing this to complain. I just want to make a record of this time in my life, because I am eager to see what God will bring out of it. I know I can't maintain this pace forever. But I don't see any chance of the treadmill slowing anytime soon. I am living in that realm where I can't do it in my own strength, and I know that's often where God shows up. I just want to set up a mile marker, raise an Ebenezer, to remember this time, this place I'm in. Because it feels like a place that's growing fruit. I just don't know what the fruit is yet.

Wow Wows...

... are flowers, at least according to Lorien. I think that's my favorite word she has right now.

She has moved from signing “all done” to saying it, and she’s starting to say Mommy and Daddy instead of Mama and Dada. She says “mok” for milk and “ahh-sauce” for applesauce. She still likes to say “amen” and to tell you to get off the phone by saying “bye-bye” before you do.

She also says Ty Ty for her cousin Tyler, recently named Grandma Keffer “Mimi” and has learned to say “Gamaw” and “Gampaw” for my parents this past week. (Grandpa Keffer is Papaw.) She also dropped her bottle completely over Christmas and is drinking everything out of a sippy cup. What a big girl!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Cookies

Since I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, we have been making spritz cookies for Christmas. Tonight was the night for this Christmas season.

Can you even make cookies without a Kitchenaid mixer?

My dad is the chief baker. He doesn't cook much, 
but he can make Christmas cookies!

My niece, Kinsey

Fresh cookie dough. Don't worry ... it won't look like this for long.

The secret to our cookie making tradition 
is to turn the kids loose with the food color.

Tyler wanted blue and green.

Lorien was pretty tired and observed from the sidelines 
with her thumb in her mouth.

She removed it long enough to tell Tyler and Kinsey 
they were making a mess...

...and popped it back in again.

Now that's more like it.

Dad and Ty press out the cookies.

Steve is working on a special project. 
What will it be this year?

Next, we add the decorations


Yes, friends, we do make some uuuuuuugly Christmas cookies. 
It's a tradition.

Steve's finished project

Kinsey's masterpiece

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Meeting Baby Mac

One providential circumstance in our lives right now is that, though Josh and I both have family living far away, at least some of those family members live within driving distance of each other. So when we visit the Midwest, we get to see my parents and two of my brothers in Ohio, and we get to see his sister and brother-in-law, who live in Michigan.

This time, there was a new nephew to meet too. Macrae Paxton Randall was born on 9.11.10. He is a big, happy boy with a winning smile!

Love the dimple!

Lorien checks out her new cousin.

She was not very happy about having another baby on Mom's lap,
but she agreed to let me hold him if I would hold her too. 

Baby feet!

We got to have a little Christmas gift exchange with the Randalls. Lorien got puzzles!

Macrae is rather oblivious to the unwrapping of presents. Even when they're his. 

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Small groupies and Graduation

Whirlwind week. We graduated the Fall 2010 Institute class during the day on Thursday, had our staff Christmas party that night and left our house at 7:30 the next morning to catch a flight to Ohio. 

Though it would be easy to jump full force into Christmas, I don't want to blow past graduation, because it has been such an amazing semester. Yes, we definitely had a great class of students, but there was also something different for me this semester that I don't fully understand.

The two tangible things that stand out to me were 1) I got to be closer to the classroom experience than ever before by supervising the student internships, and I absolutely loved it, and 2) I had a wonderful small group. Yes, I say that every semester, but I need to write about these ladies and how God brought them together as a little community this semester. In my living room. Every Wednesday night. 

My small group was made up of four roommates and one extra. Which might have seemed awkward, but it wasn't. Right away, it was easy to tell how three of the four roommates had been placed together. Meghan, Beka and Whitney are all blond, Southern, and outdoorsy (their observation, not mine). An easy match. Apparently, there was originally a fourth roommate of a similar description assigned to their apartment, but she dropped out and was replaced by the next person on the alternate list. Her name is Anne Marie...dark hair, hails from Wisconsin, business major, interested in politics. 

It could have been a setup for a serious case of "one of these things is not like the others." But it wasn't. It was amazing how these ladies made the most of their differences and really drew out each other's strengths. 

Like Beka's ability to put everyone at ease, make everyone feel incredibly loved and valued, and to ask really good questions. 

Or Meghan's uncanny combination of tough and tender: This is girl who backpacked for 30 days straight to complete her NOLS certificate, who has all the skills and vision of a budding executive, and yet has a deep compassion for at-risk youth and wants to through her energy and vision into pulling youth out of poverty and high-risk situations. 

Or Whitney, whose six foot stature and amazing blond hair turn heads wherever she goes. (She denies it, but her roommates tell the truth.) She is a leader among leaders, and yet God was doing big things in her life this semester with regards to weakness and choosing to be vulnerable. It was amazing to see what happens when someone that others perceive as very strong chooses to become weak...and very real.... It creates an atmosphere of authenticity and honesty in the whole group. 

And Anne Marie is a thinker. It became kind of a joke that when Anne Marie said, "I've been thinking...," she meant she'd been thinking about the thing at hand for hours. I often found myself pondering some insight she had contributed to the discussion and realizing it was a brand new perspective I'd never heard before, and that it was really challenging to me. 

Rounding out our group was Christine from Dallas. She dreams big. She knows what she wants. And she spent the semester opening herself up to the God of the universe, asking Him what His dreams are for her life. She was also willing to ask tough and insightful questions of herself...and of me. I knew that every time she came into my office, there would be something worthwhile to talk about. 

So every Wednesday night the six of us got together for a couple of hours, shared dessert, shared our lives, prayed and studied Scripture together. What a blessing, and definitely a tangible part of what made my semester so good. They got under my skin—I couldn't help but drop my guard. They served me, especially by offering free babysitting. I can't wait to see where God takes each of these beautiful ladies. 

One more note about important things this semester: I also met weekly with Mallory, whose goal for the semester was to "grow up." I think it takes a good dose of extant maturity to even set that as a goal. She comes from a great family, and I totally knew what she meant when she said she needed a push out of the learn to be a big girl and venture out into the adult world on her own. It was fun to walk with her on this first semester far from home—to share a love for teaching and literature, and to talk about life, love, marriage, personal finances, conflict resolution...just anything that was on her mind. I wish her the best as well!

I have to close with this final snapshot. During graduation, we sang the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy"—an Institute favorite thanks to Dr. Del Tackett. Four guys who had been roommates were scattered at 3 different tables near me, and during the song, this is what happened: 

I cried. Loved seeing this tangible display of the brotherhood that had formed in their apartment this semester.

So, what can I say? I love my job. I'm tired out and ready for a break, but so thankful to have had these particular 44 students as a part of my life this semester.