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What does a hen do all day? Nothing but walk about in endless circles, pecking at this or that--yet she is one of the most creative and productive of God's creatures.
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1. God At Work

Last week was an exciting week in my ministry life!

From Tuesday night to Thursday noon, Father Rooster and I attended a retreat for clergy and spouses of our Midwest Anglican diocese--an annual event, but this was only our second year. And it was just as inspiring and refreshing as last year! It was wonderful to renew old friendships and former ministry partnerships, and forge new ones, especially among the growing Wisconsin contingent.

Early in the retreat, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and sharing one thing that gave us joy in our ministries. Many of the joys shared were on the other end of suffering, which was a powerful testimony to God's faithfulness. It was so encouraging to hear all that God is doing in many different Anglican settings--on college campuses, in nursing homes, in Latino congregations, among refugees and immigrants, and even at a preschool.

We had five Anglican ministers from Kenya with us too. Because our bishop and a few other delegates had visited them, and they had found it so encouraging, they sent a group to visit us, as missionaries to America! It was such a joy to receive ministry from the Provost of the Anglican cathedral in Nairobi and his wife, their children's pastor, their youth pastor and their pastor of missions and outreach. At the cathedral, they have 6,000 on a Sunday morning (3 services) and over 1200 children, 12 and under. We discovered, mutually, that we have many of the same types of ministry situations, and some that are culturally unique. But there is a ministry of refreshment that outsiders bring, who are in tune with the same vision; they experienced it when Americans came to them, and they brought it, when they came to us! That ministry included a number of prophetic words, that were so clearly from the Lord. Such encouragement!

Our Bishop spoke powerfully on our diocese's vision of "a revival of Word and sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit," and his wife taught on faith. She encouraged us to have a bigger vision--to ask for what we need and want to happen in ministry, but also to have our eyes on God's even bigger, grander vision which may take more time for alignment of all the moving parts. 

We also met in small groups and prayed for one another. Both Father R and I received strong confirmations of things God is calling us to personally and at Light of Christ.

Without expecting it, I received an answer to a long-standing question I have often put before the Lord:  How does my work with children's theater fit in with my calling as a pastor's wife? For years, I have felt vaguely guilty (and perhaps a little judged) that the time I spend in theater is time I ought to be giving to my church. Yet I have always felt God nudging me that direction, and (to quote Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire) I feel his pleasure when I am at the theater.

At the retreat, there was a moment when God opened my eyes, and I saw clearly that theater is my outreach ministry! It was like Clarence showing George what it would have been like in Bedford Falls if he hadn't existed. God reminded me of all the people I wouldn't even know if I hadn't started and remained involved in the Kenosha chapter of Spotlight Youth Theater. There is one child I know of who wouldn't be saved! In 18 months, I will no longer have an elementary school-aged child at home, but I had sixteen 8-12 year-olds in my Drama 1 class last session. Through those children, I meet parents and siblings as well. At rehearsals this session, I am starting a weekly prayer time for parents who want to come and pray for their kids, the directors, Spotlight, and all the brand-new families who have joined us. One of these I met through a community theater production we were in together. They are not church attenders; Spotlight is as close as they may ever get! There is a family at our church now, who arrived via Spotlight, and through Spotlight, I have connections with many other churches in town, including men and women in staff positions. I also have adult friends who are great spiritual encouragers to me. 

So I feel a new freedom to embrace theater as a place God uses me, which is totally in synch with his vision for Light of Christ! 

Finally, yesterday at our Sunday morning service we had such an amazing time of blessing and encouraging ministry, called "Signal Fires Sunday" (an image from Lord of the Rings). Even though we are small, our vision is to start new congregations, and we have one at Carthage College which just started up in September. It was such a joy to have them all at our service yesterday. Two students shared about what the Lord was doing among them, and how they were reaching out to a community of veterans, who relished their friendship and their prayer ministry. We also have a deacon (who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming Saturday) who shared his vision for a congregation to be raised up in Racine. These outposts of Light of Christ are so exciting!

The sermon was given by one of our Kenyan brothers, and during the ministry time for all the congregations, he laid hands on Father Rooster and I and prayed for our joint ministry. It was so strengthening and encouraging...and just a bit daunting. It was a big vision he laid out for us, but so much in line with what God is already bringing and strengthening us to do.

Praise be to God for allowing us to participate in His work!

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2. Percolating

I should be writing a birthday post for the February birthdays, or recapping Beauty and the Beast, the show we just finished up, or posting pictures of my house (I know, I know, some of you have been waiting!!!), plus I have videos I want to put up...--but I have too many other things I want to capture!

There are so many exciting things percolating in my life right now.

(I love that verb, but I realize it may not mean much to some who aren't familiar with a percolator. My mom still uses hers to make coffee for a crowd. I don't know much about it how it works, except that when it gets hot, it boils and bubbles and "perks" as the bubbles break against the little glass window on top. You have to let it perk for awhile while you wait for the coffee to brew. That's how I envision things happening in my life sometimes--bubbling up, heating up, requiring a little more time before they're fully brewed and ready to serve. :)

The newest thing is that I just was asked to teach a 10-week class on Shakespeare for the youth theater program we participate in! It will be Shakespeare education and appreciation as much as it is performance, and I have more ideas than thou couldst waggle a cudgel at! I'm so psyched. It's not in Kenosha; it's in Lake County, one of our sister areas. I'm excited to meet my new students!

In other teaching news, I proposed wrapping up the grammar and writing classes I've been teaching for our classical co-op. We were supposed to go seven more weeks, but we will end in just two more weeks. This feels so freeing to me! As much as Chicklet and I enjoy this group, it hasn't felt like the right fit for us for awhile now. Between the time we spend there, my prep time, and the time we spend on writing homework for MY CLASS, it takes up 2+ days out of our week. I have plans for those two days we'll be getting back!

I think the other moms are happy to get some extra time in their weeks this spring too. One said that the local middle school told her that their 8th graders will have written two 5-paragraph essays in language arts this year. Since my 4th-6th graders have been writing one every week or so, for a couple months now...I feel we are safe to wrap up writing class and spend our spring concentrating on other subjects we haven't been hitting as hard!

At church, I am excited about our healing services on Wednesday nights during Lent. I will be speaking at one of them. We are full of expectation that God is going to work powerfully through these times set aside to listen for his words of life and healing.  And Holy Week will be here before we know it, so as soon as my Shakespeare lesson plans are set, I have to channel my creativity into readers and readings for Easter Vigil.

We are also resurrecting our youth group this spring. It's a small group, mostly boys, but we're going to get them together once a month at our house for worship and prayer with their Sunday School teacher, a wonderful man they all love--and see what happens! We're asking them to lead the group in a simplified evening prayer service, with a couple songs accompanied by those who play guitar and piano. We'll start with a meal--the key to the teenage male heart, right?--and they will also warm up with improv, led by themselves (including B16, who's on a competitive improv team again this spring). We met once already. It was an extra small group, but they all participated and had fun, yet took it seriously too.

B10, B16 and Chicklet have auditions coming up on Friday, for a show that might get cancelled for low turnout. If it does, they want to audition on the same night for a show in Lake County. So that's more exciting and suspenseful than usual! On Saturday, which will be callbacks, B16 has two solos and is singing in three ensembles at Solo and Ensemble competition in Kenosha. So that will be interesting to work out if he's called back. His voice has really been developing nicely this year, and his very experienced voice teacher has been most encouraging.

I'm excited about some house projects I have finally managed to make time for...but perhaps I should put those in a post of their own.

And most exciting of all--Chicklet12 and I have vacation plans for after Easter! But I'm going to save those too. I have Shakespeare scenes to select for tomorrow night, and seven weeks of grammar to condense into two weeks. So I'm going to go give some thought to that before the day gets completely away from me...!

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3. Lent 2015

You know how sometimes you know God is speaking to you because you keep getting the same message, loud and clear? You know, first you read something that really strikes you. Then you hear the same idea in a sermon. Then you run across Scripture that seems to be saying the same thing?

So for Lent this year, I've been convicted that what I'm supposed to do is rest. I don't necessarily mean getting more physical rest or clearing my schedule...but I'm supposed to rest in the Lord.

My activistic personality has often viewed Lent as a time for cultivating discipline and good habits. Ash Wednesday can feel suspiciously like New Year's Day--a day for making resolutions of self-improvement in my spiritual life. And I won't say I haven't benefitted, some years, from embracing a new discipline.

But this year, God is giving me things to do that aren't do-ing. This morning's psalm, Psalm 37, really spoke to me with action verbs that are all about resting:

Fret not yourself...
Trust in the Lord...
befriend faithfulness...
Delight yourself in the Lord...
Commit your way to the Lord...
trust in him...
Be still before the Lord...
wait patiently for him...
fret not yourself...
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself

It's interesting that "Fret not yourself" is repeated three times in this passage! But it's not just a "stop worrying" message; we are told what to do instead. Trust, dwell, delight, commit, be still, wait patiently, "befriend faithfulness." Such an interesting phrase!! It speaks to me of this steadfast rest in the Lord that I'm feeling called to.

So this year, it's not going to be a "try-harder" Lent. Oh, I am giving something up; we always give up dessert as a family, plus my discipline will be:  Bible before Facebook! It's so easy to mindlessly browse first thing, before my brain gets in gear, but instead of opening up Facebook, I'm going to open up my BCP (Book of Common Prayer) app and listen to the lectionary readings while I'm making coffee. (Priorities!) I want to start my day by trusting, dwelling, delighting, waiting and all the rest. Pun intended, I guess. --All the rest that God wants to pour into me when I rest in him.

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4. Happy Birthdays to My Eldests

In November, Blondechick turned 22 on the 22nd--her "golden birthday." We had a party with all "gold" foods (yellow and orange) and also had a quiz on her favorite things ("Things Blondechick Thinks Are Golden").

And a week ago, our oldest turned 24! His only requests were pecan pie instead of birthday cake, and he wanted the whole family to watch "How to Train Your Dragon 2" with him. He also asked his dad to take him and B15 to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. It's the simple things!

In honor of their missed birthdays--a quick update. 

Blondechick has been working at a law firm since September, training to become a paralegal--and she absolutely loves it! Such an answer to prayer. She has been living alone, essentially, on the second floor of a friends' home, but she is about to move into a house with 4 other girls from her church--another answer to prayer! These girls not only cook and eat meals together, they pray and worship together too, so she is excited for that kind of fellowship! She remains involved with the church she began attending last year, when she was enrolled in its School of Worship. She continues to have her ups and downs, but she keeps clinging to Jesus through it all--praise God! We are thankful for how God faithfully keeps working in her life.

Bantam24 still lives at home and still works at a dollar store, usually just one day a week, where he stocks shelves from 5 AM to 10 AM. He may not be their most productive employee, but he is reliable! He sets his alarm for 3:30 AM and has never overslept. Instead of paying us rent, he contributes service at home. It is wonderful to have his help running kids around, picking up groceries, vacuuming, putting out the trash weekly and staying on top of the daily dishes. He runs daily on the treadmill and is at his lowest weight in years. He spends a lot of time gaming and editing/contributing graphic images for Halopedia and Destinypedia. He has many online friends that he games with, and he even began witnessing to one, a depressed veteran of Iraq.

We have recently applied for Social Security Income for him, since it doesn't seem like he's going to be very capable of supporting himself if something were to happen to both of us. We had a lot of testing done and it clearly supports our case. It was sad and sobering to read the report. Yet it made me so very grateful to God that B24 lives a life that is much richer than his diagnosis and abilities would indicate. He enjoys his family, and we enjoy him and his quirks so much. Even though he gets argumentative sometimes about helping, he feels needed and appreciated. (He has told others that his family really needs him--and it's the truth!) God knew what He was doing when he gave us B24 first!

The transition from having dependent children to having young adults hasn't been really smooth with these two (and we still need prayer, if you are so inclined). But God has been so faithful to walk with them and with us through these seasons.

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5. Fifty Things I'm Thankful For At Fifty

1. Birthdays. As annoying as it is to be reminded each year that one is getting older, there is a certain accomplishment in completing another year, is there not? Birthdays always cause me to reflect on the previous year and dream about the year to come. Probably because my birthday is so close to New Year's Day!

2. Truisms. "An obvious truth," such as "Older but wiser." I like truisms because sometimes it's reassuring to state the obvious. 

3. Wisdom. Time does have a way of teaching you things you can't learn without living them.

4. Truth. Last night a group of my friends spoke many affirming words to me about who I am. Many of them confirmed and repeated the same ideas, so that I had to believe it was truth. Mercifully it was not the whole truth--the same group could all have agreed on my many weaknesses--but it was wonderful that they were able to identify and water the flowers in my heart's garden. I tend to be more aware of the weeds!

5. Prayer. This group of friends also laid hands on me and prayed for me. What a gift!

6. Powerful images from the Lord. One friend gave me a beautiful picture of what God is doing in my life. He said the Lord showed him a garden that had been cultivated with many perennials, bushes and plants that take time to come to maturity. When they do, it's because of all the labor and effort that was put in during those early years when it seemed like not much was happening. In maturity, the garden is a place of rest and enjoyment.

7. Intercession. Two friends had the same prayer for me--that the petitions I had prayed in secret, the desires the Lord had yet to grant, would soon be fulfilled. Yes, Lord Jesus come!

8. Friends. We've lived in Kenosha for nearly 7 years now. I thought that the fellowship we had at our previous church and neighborhood of 16 years could never be replaced, but God has given me friends beyond what I could have asked or imagined when we first moved here!

9. Papa Rooster. I could probably finish out the remaining list with all the things I am thankful for in my husband, but let's just go with how he understands me and desires to bless and care for me. He organized and facilitated the gathering last night, and he daily speaks words of love and blessing to me. He is such a great father to our children, and pastor to our congregation. I am so blessed that he is stuck with me!

10. My children. Three of them "rose up and called me blessed," at the party last night (to quote Proverbs 31). Teenagers and those not long out of their teens are not known for being particularly appreciative of parental advice and wisdom, but my children depart from that stereotype on a pretty regular basis. I am always so blessed when they do.

11. Brevity. If I am going to get through this list, I am going to need it!

12. Heat. In these frigid temps, I am so grateful that our old house is relatively snug and draft-free, and our ancient boiler is having no problem pumping out the heat!

13. Reliable cars. They start, they run, even in negative temps. I don't take this for granted!

14. Days off of school. (I would say "snow days," but what do we call them--"windchill days"?) We had three in a row and it was fun to have B9 and B15 around.

15. Audiobooks. 

16. The stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Guaranteed to amuse and lift the spirits!

17. ALEKS online math program. 

18. The Harry Potter series. Chicklet12 is engrossed, and I love letting her read all day and calling it school! As long as she also completes her hour+ of ALEKS math.

19. Middle school choir. Chicklet is going to join the public school's 6th grade choir for the rest of the year. The choir director is fabulous, and she doesn't even care if Chicklet misses every Tuesday because of our classical co-op.

20. B15's high school choral experience. Between Madrigals, Jazz Choir and Chorale, he's learned so much and had a blast. 

21. B15's surprise solo yesterday. The Chorale had been selected months ago to sing for a choral director's conference in Appleton, WI, a 2.5 hour drive away, and the school allowed them to go even though school was cancelled. (The Fine Arts administrator made it happen, arguing that it would be like not allowing a sports team to attend a championship game!) It was a singular honor, as they were performing as an example for all the other choir directors at the conference. On the morning of, B15 was told he had been selected to sing the baritone solo in one of their numbers. He was thrilled!

22. Our trip to CA for my cousin's wedding. So happy for him and his new wife! So wonderful to visit my aunt and uncle again too. The visit was too short!

23. My brothers and sisters-in-law. Not just relatives, but friends!

24. My parents, and my father-in-law. Thankful for their good health, their love and support, and their wisdom.

25. That my children are all walking with the Lord. I may worry about circumstances in their life, but I can cling to this truth!

26. This blog. New Year's was my "blogiversary"--nine years since I started keeping this chronicle of family events and  my random observations. It's given me an outlet for writing and helped me hone my style. Thank you, all you who faithfully or occasionally read!

27. Our treadmill. It's served our family well for years. (May it last for many more!) I've recently started walking on it, about 2.5 miles a day in about 43 minutes, which is how long it takes to watch one episode of Once Upon a Time, Season 1. 

28. Netflix. It sure does help me look forward to exercising!

29. Panera. Where I am now, getting some "me time" while my kids are at...

30. Spotlight Youth Theater. So grateful for the experiences and opportunities this company has given my kids, and me. How would I ever have discovered what fun it is to teach and direct drama classes and shows? 

31. That Area Coordinator and friend who first hired me as a teacher, who thought I would be good at iit, even when I argued that I didn't have any drama experience. Thanks to her, and...

32. That director who first invited me to be on a directing team...I now have...

33. Experience! With every new class or cast I direct, I gain a little more. I'm really enjoying the Drama 1 class I'm teaching right now, and the ten-minute scene from The Phantom Tollbooth we are working on for Showcase.

34. The opportunity to use my teaching gifts at Spotlight and at our classical co-op. I really do enjoy teaching in a class setting. 

35. The other families at our co-op who go out of their way to accommodate me and Chicklet12. Our co-op is a blessing!

35. The friend who takes my daughter to CC, allowing me to come later.

36. Homeschooling. This may be my last year for awhile. It may be--still discerning this--but it may be that the Lord has other things for me to do next year. Homeschooling has been such a wonderful option for our kids, and I am grateful for all the years God has given me the grace and the opportunity to do it.

37. Educational options. We have so many choices in this area, although some (charter schools) are only available by lottery. If Chicklet were to go to school next year, I'm not yet sure where it would be.

38. The local elementary school, where B9 is thriving.

39. The high school, a rough place where B15 has found good friends and inspiring teachers. Such a gift!

40. Our church. Lots of good things happening there.

41. Our annual meeting and celebration (coming up in 2 weeks) of all that God is doing among us! I will have more to say after that. ;)

42. Visitors and newcomers. In recent months, we've added a new family that's plugging in and had other visitors who keep coming back. Every person seems sent from God. We need them; they need us!

43.  All that B19 is learning at the School of Worship. What a good experience he's having this year!

44. Blondechick22's job. She's working at a law office and basically being trained as a paralegal. She loves the job itself and the women she works with. What provision!

45. B23's job. Even though it's only 5-10 hours a week, it's enough that he can pay his student loan and give us something toward his phone/car insurance/medical expenses. In lieu of rent he gives us service hours.

46. All the ways B23 helps out--chauffeuring his brothers and sister, grocery shopping, remembering to put the trash out on Tuesday nights, and staying on top of the dishes.

47. Chicklet12 and B9's relationship. They are best friends! Neither of them has made one complaint about having to share a room since we moved in.

48. Our house. Even without the third floor being finished, we are comfortable. Even though I see projects all over (painting, wallpaper removal, windows to wash, splintered and cracked paint to remove or re-do, yardwork), the house is perfectly livable without doing any of them. For which I am grateful--though I chafe to get at them!

49. Our house as a ministry center. We have several groups meeting here weekly for prayer, Bible study and administration, along with other regular but less frequent meetings. Our old house couldn't accommodate these meetings at all--not only was it not centrally located, but the layout didn't give our family anywhere to go if a meeting was taking place in the living room. Here, doors can be closed which give privacy to those meeting, and allows our family to go about our normal routines without interrupting anything.

50. All good things. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." God is good, all the time!

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6. Annotated List of Books I Read in 2014

With routine blown to bits with our move, my book list is shorter than usual. Still a respectable list, considering--thank God for audiobooks!--but I have to point out that a lot of these are...pretty short. :)

Let's start with the children's books, shall we? 

Paddle to the Sea (Holling C. Holling)
Ah, padding my list already, I see. This was one from 2013 that I forgot about till after I published last year's list. If you live near one of the Great Lakes, you MUST find this beautifully illustrated book about a little carved wooden Indian boy in a canoe who travels from Lake Superior through each of the Great Lakes and finally out to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes a year or more, so you travel through the seasons as well as the geography of the region.

The Queen's Smuggler; The Bandit of Ashley Downs (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer series is a fictional series describing the feats of famous Christians as they might have interacted with children of their time period. For example, The Bandit of Ashley Downs is about George Muller, told from the perspective of one of the orphans who came to live in his orphanage, who saw firsthand how God provided meals and furnaces for the orphan houses, (based on actual accounts). The Queen's Smuggler tells how a young girl smuggled a copy of William Tyndale's New Testament into the hands of Anne Boleyn, hoping it will enable her to persuade King Henry VIII to release Tyndale from prison. My kids really enjoy these, especially since each chapter ends with a cliffhanger!

Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Still slowly making our way through this series. So wonderful. If you never read these as a child, treat yourself and read them now!

Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter)
This is one of those books I might never have read, but at a garage sale, I couldn't pass up a beautiful edition of it with a purple fabric cover and gilt lettering, because it was so lovely and practically free. Chicklet wanted to read it, but with its 1913 prose, it was beyond her, so it became our book to read when B9 was too tired to read another chapter of Little House. This book is due for a comeback, I think, or at least another movie remake, because it's so in step with the gratitude movement. Pollyanna continually plays "The Glad Game," in which the challenge is for one to find something to be glad about, even in difficult circumstances, and when she invites others to play the game with her, their lives are transformed! I have mostly heard of "Pollyanna" as a pejorative; the actual book paints a positive and helpful picture.

Miracle's Boys; Hush (Jacqueline Woodson)
These are YA books by a black author about black families, sensitively told and well written. I am definitely going to look for more books by this author. Miracle's Boys is about three sons, after the death of their mother, and how they handle the grief and their relationships with each other after one angry brother is released from a juvenile detention center. Hush is about a the family of a black policeman who enters the witness protection program, uprooted from family and friends, given new identities, trying to fit in in a new community. I was listening to this audiobook when everything blew up in Ferguson--apt timing. 

The Silver Chair; The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
Listened to these with the younger kids and B23 on road trips this year. We own the Focus on the Family Radio Drama versions, which are wonderful! The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that adults should treat themselves to. Even if you didn't miss out as a child, re-read them as an adult!

On to the grown-up books....

Of Mice and Men; East of Eden; The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
I thought I didn't like Steinbeck. Based on what? --One reading, when I was way too young--4th grade, I think?--of "The Red Pony" (which was horrible, if you were expecting a nice horse story). Oh, and I think I was made to watch a black-and-white movie version of Of Mice and Men at some point. Also very disturbing. 

But now, I am in love with Steinbeck. Wow. What a writer! It probably helps that I have listened to these as audiobooks; the readers doing the dialects accurately adds so much. (Gary Sinise reading Of Mice and Men is an incredible performance.) Although the plots are not feel-good stories, they are so deeply satisfying as life, life with all its messiness and mistakes, but still with a vibrancy that cannot be quenched while there is life. It's hard to say which is my favorite, but East of Eden was the most theologically and spiritually provoking. All these stories were so engaging, I'd make up reasons to stay in the kitchen to keep listening.

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)
My library had a nice edition of this play performed as an audiobook. Theologically thought-provoking, as various characters of the institutional church represent different modes of thought, and Shaw does such a masterful job of making each character full of personality--and entertaining!

Green Dolphin Street (Elizabeth Goudge)
I thought I had read this before, back when Papa Rooster and I were collecting books by this author and reading them all avidly, but I think I must only have seen the old movie. The book, of course, is better! This is one of this fine writer's best books, about two very different sisters who love the same man. He is banished to Australia, and writes for his love to join him--but accidentally asks for the wrong sister! This is the story of a difficult marriage and of a love lost and found in God (the real love becomes a nun), which spans a lifetime, as the two sisters are reunited again in their last decade of life. It takes place partly in a harborside town on a windswept, sunny island, and partly in Australia, where the white culture encroaches on the Maori way of life, with resulting unrest and violence.

They Do It With Mirrors; At Bertram's Hotel; Black Coffee (Agatha Christie)
I love Agatha Christie. Consistently good writing and intriguing plots, and the audiobooks are always read by British readers, which is always a delight to the ear. Chicklet12 has started listening to Hercule Poirot audiobooks, because she thinks he's so funny! If you're interested in getting kids started on the Dame, Black Coffee is uniquely accessible, I think. It was originally written as a stage play, so the action is quite direct and it's shorter than most of her books. It's also your archetypal poison plot. :)

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another in the series that began with The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. I love visiting Botswana occasionally through these gentle, lighthearted mysteries.

The Alto Wore Tweed, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Bass Wore Scales, The Treble Wore Trouble (Mark Schweizer)
These were my find of the year! Okay, my friend's find of the year. These "liturgical mysteries" are about the choir director and organist of an Episcopal church, who is also the chief detective of the 3-person police force of this small Carolina town. He also writes really bad noir mysteries in Sam Spade style, with metaphors and similes as convoluted as an octopus's arms wrapped around a squid's tentacles, just as slimy and twice as twisted, qualified with qualifiers as endless as the sea they both reside in. (Ha! Not bad for my first-ever attempt to imitate.) He writes the bad mysteries in installments, which he inserts in the choir's folders so they'll have reading material during the sermon; they are sprinkled throughout each novel for the reader's entertainment as well.

The actual mysteries aren't as intriguing as the antics of a series of priests who serve at the church, which has always been quite traditional until the rector who wants a clown mass, the one who brings in a Feng Shui consultant to rearrange the altar and other furniture and pronounce that the traditional liturgical colors are all wrong, and the one who brings with him a Hungarian dwarf to serve as verger. The request for a clown mass causes the Episcopal church in a neighboring town to request a pirate mass, which is far more successful--and humorous! ("An' on the night 'e was handed over to sufferin' and Davy Jones' locker, 'e took bread, and when 'e had beat the weevils out 'o it...") The cast of colorful characters includes Benny Dawkins, who is a world-class thurifer, with thurible-swinging signature moves like the Tallulah Bankhead, the Big Ben, the Cross Your Heart, and the very difficult Walk the Dog. You don't want to sit on the aisle if you get on his bad side, or you might find yourself knocked out cold with a Double-Inverted Reverse Swan.

In case you're from a non-censing (non-smoking) church, here's a visual:

You can see how seriously thurifers take their job!

Finally, the few, the proud, the non-fiction....

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding With Christlike Balance (Randy Alcorn)
Another book I actually read in 2013, I think. I rarely finish non-fiction, it seems, but this one was short and so engaging. My experience with Christianity has been heavy on delivering truth to people, but how to also extend grace? This book was fabulous on how to reach out with both, and why one without the other is deadly to unbelievers and believers alike. Lots of great anecdotes probably helped me get through it.

Lives on the Boundary:  A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America's Educationally Underprepared (Mike Rose)
Why? Why out of all the great non-fiction books I have started, would I actually finish a book with a title like this? Well, it helps that I brought it along on the plane to CA, but I did have other reading material. Simply put, I couldn't put it down. The author is now an expert in education, but he came from quite the impoverished background, and barely made it into college, let alone through it. He knows about being educationally underprepared, and he works with college freshman and adult remedial learners, so he had tons of stories woven throughout this account of his own educational experience and what he's learned since. He especially critiqued how we often teach and judge writing, emphasizing grammar, punctuation and sentence structure over expression at the remedial level. He gave varied and poignant evidence that standardized tests don't really assess what students know, especially disadvantaged students. He also examined the huge leap that students have to make between high school and college, and it was interesting to hear how he tutors incoming freshman to think and write, especially students that had little opportunity in high school, forced into remedial classrooms because of language and other barriers. As a parent with 4 kids yet to begin college, I was so intrigued and inspired.

And that concludes this year's list! If you'd like to see other year-end lists, visit Semicolon's round-up of reviews!

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7. December News

My dear California uncle tells me that I must get something new up on my blog so that he doesn't have to keep looking at those candles! My apologies to any other readers who are similarly tired of waiting for a new post here. I have to admit, Advent is gone and the waiting should be over!

It's not really that I've been a slacker. It's been December!

Of course we had Christmas and related activities. Although I tried to keep spending to a bare minimum, I didn't want to deprive our kids and relatives of gifts altogether. I actually had a good time shopping sales and using $10 off coupons at Penney's and Gordman's, 30% off at Kohl's (racking up Kohl's cash too) and using points from our credit card on Amazon. Since I was out--normally, I just don't shop, or shop mainly at Goodwill or St. Vincent's for myself--I scoured every clearance rack for a few things to update my own wardrobe too. Time to retire the t-shirts and hoodies, I think. With a few inexpensive sweaters, I'm now able to wear boots (instead of gym shoes--more practical in the winter) and scarves (gifts I've been unable to wear) with my skinny jeans (score! 2 new pairs at Goodwill).

Not that anyone cares much? But it took a lot of time. And now I should be set for a few more winters! 

For the first three weeks of December, I also continued teaching and lesson-planning for the grammar and writing classes I teach at a classical homeschool co-op, and for the Drama 1 class I'm pulling together my own curriculum for. These last two weeks, it's been nice to be on vacation from teaching!

What else? We attended a Christmas choir concert and a Madrigals feast that I still want to write a post about. I am so amazed and impressed with the quality of the choir experience B15 is having at the public high school.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve service at Light of Christ. B15, Chicklet12 and I were all in the a cappella choir, so we also had a rehearsal the day before. Christmas Eve afternoon was spent cooking a meal with our friends--the ones that we lived with in between houses, earlier this summer--because after the 5:00 service, we had 33 people over for dinner! The plan kind of mushroomed beyond the initial thought, but they totally took it in stride, and we were able to include a number of folks who had traveled and were otherwise without a place to go.

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts and had brunch at home--our first Christmas in our new house--and then traveled into Chicago to spend the rest of the day with Papa Rooster's father, brother, his wife, and our niece. It's such a blessing to have family close enough to do holidays with. Wonderful memories for us all!

We had one day after Christmas to get ready to leave for my cousin's wedding in Southern California! No kids, just us. The two youngest stayed with their aunt and uncle for the first few nights, and then went to other homes they'd been invited to. The 15 and older crowd fended for themselves, and thankfully are completely trustworthy. They made plans with friends and enjoyed the downtime. It was especially nice since they're on vacation from school and regular lessons and classes.

We had a fabulous time at the wedding, particularly because my two brothers and their wives were there without kids either, and we all realized it was the first time this had ever happened! The six of us had so much fun. Without kids interrupting or meals to prepare and clean up after, we could just enjoy being together at the rehearsal dinner, the reception, breakfast, and more.

The wedding was one of those long-awaited affairs; my cousin is 45, an only child and never married. But his lovely bride was worth the wait! And what a small world it is. We discovered so many connections with her family--she used to work with Papa Rooster's cousin; her sister is friends with my cousin's wife; her twin brother lives in the same area where we lived in IL and we know many of the same people. Such a delightful family. It was a special day and a wonderful trip!

Too short, of course. But it's good to be back and have a few days of vacation left to enjoy. Hoping to not do much except write another blog post. 

Watch this space for my year-end review of the books I read this year! I promise it won't be another month. :)

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8. Come, Lord Jesus

Another Advent is here! I love this season, full of mystery, longing, hope and anticipation.

"Come, Lord Jesus!" is the cry of Advent. And there are so many ways I need Jesus to come. So many lives He needs to break into...so many situations that cry out for divine intervention. Having done what I can think of to do, having prayed the prayers I can think of to pray, often the only thing left to do is cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

And not only in the lives of others--I need the Lord to come into my life. Distractions cloud my vision, my prayers, my priorities. Advent is a season that reminds me to wake--not slumber--to watch, in the darkness, for the light. I invite God to come again into my life, to re-orient my perspective. "Come, Lord Jesus," my heart cries. "Come into every area of my heart--every darkened corner, every slumbering resolution, every helpless hope, probe every tender spot. I give you access, Lord; come." 

The Advent parable of the ten virgins always speaks to me--the five who weren't prepared and wanted to borrow oil from the five who had brought extra. May the Lord find me not trying to borrow from someone else's faith or experience, but actively engaged in listening to Him and serving Him in the unique ways He's called me. In this parable, there is also the image of waking from slumber and going in to the marriage feast--the promise of joy, the anticipation of fulfillment of all things. Yet there is mystery in this parable. We slumber in the night, as we wait, our lamps burning in expectation of that hour.

The December days may be busy, but the nights--longer and longer as we creep toward Christmas--remind me to pray for the light to break into the darkness. Come, Light of Christ.

But Advent is not all longing and expectation. Even as we pray for his coming into our lives and the lives of those we love, even as we anticipate his coming at the end of all things, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, we rejoice in the Good News:  He came! Advent brings us daily closer to Christmas and the celebration of his first coming. It's a down payment, if you will, that He will make good on his promises.

There is a longing, in Advent, for what we haven't got...for what we need, in Christ. But we can long with anticipation of our hopes being fulfilled, because there has been fulfillment. When we didn't even know our need, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, He died. While we wait in darkness and unknowing, He knows. He is Lord...He will come.

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9. Bullet Points

--The younger three kids were in a musical and I never even mentioned it here, even though B15 was cast in the leading role of Peter Pan! Chicklet played a lovely, green-haired mermaid and B9 was appropriately cast as a dirty-faced, tousle-haired Lost Boy.

--Papa Rooster got roped in (pun intended) to "flying" Peter Pan backstage, which turned out to be one of the most strenuous things he's ever done! B15 is a solid 150 pounds, and even with the magic of physics cutting that number in half, 75 pounds is a lot of weight to lift with a single rope. He destroyed a pair of good weight-lifting gloves on the first night, letting Peter Pan descend quickly a couple of times, and he had to order the kind that special forces use to slide down ropes out of helicopters. He still isn't wearing his rings yet. His fingers and forearms were so swollen that week, even though he was constantly icing them.

--He said though it was way harder than he thought it would be, he also had a lot more fun than he thought he'd have! The only sad thing was that he never could watch the show or take any photos at a dress rehearsal. I need to try and get some images from the professional photographer to do a picture post, eventually...

--On All Saints' at Light of Christ, we received 8 new members and baptized 4 children from one of the new families. It was such a wonderful morning!

--A new session of theater began this week. I'm happy to be teaching Drama 1 to a large class of 16 kids, many of them new to our program, and I'm super-excited about the script I've been working on for our final project, based on one of my favorite children's books, The Phantom Tollbooth. B15 is taking Improv, Chicklet12 was thrilled to make it into an audition-only dance class called Project Dance, Jr., and B9 is excited that in his Musical Theater class, they are doing songs from the same Hercules that I helped direct a year ago, and they are going to wear the same costumes!

--Auditions for the winter show, Beauty and the Beast, are this Friday!

--Our Classical Conversations-based co-op is going well--such a nice group of families. However, it was starting to feel like more time than it was worth for Chicklet and me, and I was considering quitting. But there is no one else who can teach the grammar and writing classes that I teach. It was a huge learning curve for me last year--the grammar, especially, is a huge amount of material to present in 45 minutes for a multi-level class, and the curriculum leaves it up to the teacher to decide how to do that. I've had to find or create my own examples, worksheets, games and more.

--They will have to figure something else out for next year, but for this year, they proposed that instead of coming for the whole day, I just come for the classes I teach in the afternoon. (And for lunch, right before that, so we can still socialize!) A friend brings Chicklet in the morning, and another mom stepped in to teach the Fine Arts class I had been teaching in the morning session. We're tried it for two weeks, and that extra morning in my week made a bigger difference than I thought it would! I am so grateful.

--This weekend I am hosting a Golden Birthday Party for Blondechick, who will be 22 on the 22nd, and a baby shower for a friend from church. My goal this week is to deal with remaining boxes and piles of stuff I've unpacked but don't know what to do with. I may end up shoving them all in the attic until next summer.

--One silver lining to not finishing the attic yet is that we can use it as an attic! A couple weekends ago, our strong young men plus a couple of their friends helped us move many boxes and some furniture out of the basement and into the attic. The basement is still a huge unorganized mess, but we're getting there.

--Finally, our decrepit garage was showing signs of not making it through the winter. A few weeks ago, the garage door stopped going all the way up, and we realized it was because one corner of the garage had sunk alarmingly and the garage door track was now at an angle. We knew from the housing inspection that the garage was in trouble--all the sills, which were laid directly on the ground instead of on cement--are rotten, and they can't just be replaced because it's impossible to get jacks underneath the garage walls because...oh, it's too involved. Everyone thought we could wait till next spring to figure it out--but apparently not! A friend who's a builder came yesterday and started work on a temporary fix to save it till next summer. It won't be as simple as just building a new garage, though, because we would not be allowed to build a new garage on the same spot--it's too close to the lot line. I'm just glad we can kick the problem a little further down the road, for now!

--Off to defer more difficulties till next summer...I've got to go select stuff to shove into an attic. ;)

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10. October Eightieth Birthday!

My dad is turning 80 next week! We HAD to get together for such a momentous occasion, but finding even one day that we could all be present--in Ohio--during the school year--proved impossible. Our overlapping day ended up on a Sunday, so Father Rooster could not be present (having just taken off two Sundays in a row earlier in the month). Blondechick and Bantam19 had to leave in the mid-afternoon to be back for work and school Monday morning, but the rest of us were able to adjust our schedules to travel on Saturday and Monday--even Professor Brother and his family, all the way from Kansas!

It was a whirlwind, but it was totally worth it.

For one thing, we were able to take a first-ever photo of ALL the grandchildren! We have previous editions...but either some grandkids weren't born yet, or we were missing some of the young adults. Here they ALL are!

And here they are looking more like they normally do.

One with Grandma and Grandpa...

...and one with me, my brothers, and my parents.

On Sunday morning, we all dressed up and went to the First Baptist Church, where my family has attended for generations.

B15 can't pass a piano without trying it out. :)

Pilot Brother and his Caterer/Coffee Shop Owner wife provided all the food for lunch, snacks, dinner and of course, birthday cake!

"Johnny Q-Whistle Paperlegs" is what the hired man called my dad when he was a kid. "John Henry Dewberry Brown" was another nickname he was saddled with, by his uncle, but the first one is even more colorful, don't you think?

Dinner was a wiener roast!

While we were toasting marshmallows for s'mores, I snapped this picture of the sunset. The trees in this woods are the scenery of my childhood--the backdrop to so many of my memories.

I was pleased with all that was captured in this next photo too. This is the view from the woods behind our house, looking toward the back of the house. The lit-up room is the addition that my parents put on about 15 years ago to their 1960's ranch, in anticipation of gatherings like these. In the foreground, you can see two ropes--one is a swinging rope, the other is to the tire swing that has occupied kids and grandkids for decades on end. With its headlights shining on a car in the driveway, that's a Toro Twister driving across the yard toward the house. My brother and dad use it for all kinds of tasks around the farm, as well as giving rides to the grandkids! Finally, the light directly above the Twister is a utility pole light that comes on every evening at dusk, and has been since I was a kid catching fireflies in its glow.

We wrapped up our day by watching old 8 mm movies. Some of them were 70 years old or more! In the first one, my dad was a kid in swimming trunks playing with a garden hose. It was easy to see where the hired man got the "paperlegs" part of his moniker--Dad's legs were paper white compared to the rest of him! And my, those legs looked familiar--just like Chicklet12's, right now. He was probably her age in the movie, but several of his grandchildren got his long, lean musculature. I had not realized how much B19 resembled his grandfather and great-grandfather, either! 

It was wonderful to see relatives and friends, and also the way the farm used to be--where the fences were, and the old gas tank, and the chicken yard, and the barn without the milk house, and the farmhouse without the front porch, and cows grazing where now there are no fences, and the trees! Today it would take two people to wrap their arms around some of the trunks, but back then one person could have, easily. 

It's a neat feeling to be connected to a place so deeply. I'm so thankful that my brother and his family have relocated there, giving us ongoing reasons to keep visiting there, and Lord willing, to keep the farm going and keep it in the family. I'm thankful that his children get to grow up there, that they have the run of the place the way my brothers and I did, growing up, and that my younger kids have cousins to visit when we go there. 

And I'm thankful for my dad, and his milestone birthday, for giving this goofy bunch a reason to get together and celebrate being us!


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11. God's Victory

Well, I keep thinking, it's an interesting time to be us.

In the last week, we got three pieces of financial news, none of them things you'd want to hear at any time, but especially not when you've just made a big move, stepping out in faith, not knowing how God would provide. 

After the second piece of news, Papa Rooster and I looked at each other and both said the same thing:  "Gideon." It wasn't the first time that image had come to mind, as our resources had been diminished recently, first by new kitchen appliances and then by a new roof. Gideon, you remember, set out to defeat the enemy with a huge army, but God made him send men home, and then more and more men, till he was left with a fraction of his army. The reason? So that it would be clear that the victory would be God's, not attributable to the strength of men.

I'm sure Gideon, after that, wondered how exactly God expected him to defeat a huge army with just a handful of men. But it must have been clear to Gideon that God had a plan, and he would learn what it was once the battle began.

These setbacks--and one of them is a long-term adjustment--have been hugely disconcerting, raising many questions in our minds. But they have not caused us to doubt what God is doing--what we believe He showed us when He led us to this house. Not that He showed us the whole picture, but that it was the next step in what He was ultimately going to do in our family and in our church.

Like Gideon, I'm questioning how exactly He thinks we're going to be able to do this with such diminished resources...and I'm waiting to watch how He does it.

The truth is, we will be fine for awhile--but we may have to live on the money we had set aside to finish the attic (or at least to start the project with). Those plans are indefinitely on hold. It's such a disappointment, especially for Papa Rooster, whose office will have to remain in a corner of the living room (which is something of a sacrifice for the rest of us, too). But another truth is that we CAN live in the house as it is, without the third floor, and for that, we are so thankful!

I know many of you are wondering "What happened to him going full-time with the church?" Our vestry is working on that question! Circumstances are accelerating our need for income from the church. But it takes time for the wheels to turn, and we are still only a small body, with a small budget, and many members of our congregation are in difficult financial situations themselves.

I just keep asking, "How? How, God, are you going to do this?" 

It's possible, of course, that all could fail. We had friends who sold everything and moved overseas to do ministry, certain they were following God's direction, only to have that ministry fall apart. Months later, they were back in the States, starting over, reeling with questions for God. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us, right?

But I don't think it's going to end up that way. I have a peace that passes understanding-- and I'm the one who usually frets over finances. I have a strong sense that God is about to do something--something amazing--not all at once but over time, through Light of Christ. I think it's going to be such a powerful work that the Enemy is making last-ditch attempts to foil the plans of God. 

Our church has had a difficult summer. Papa Rooster has been under such an onslaught, trying to balance two jobs, two moves, teenagers, young adults, church needs and situations--and now financial worries. I can feel the stress too; my blood pressure is creeping up like it did for the first year or so after our move to Wisconsin. (My potassium is low, which could be contributing--at least I can do something about that!) 

Teresa of Avila, I am told, wrote once that she always worried about the new ministries (convents and monasteries) she established that didn't seem to have any difficulties--because they always failed. The ones that went on to be thriving works were always initially met with great opposition.

It has been encouraging to see the rise of intercessory prayer among certain individuals and groups at Light of Christ. My own prayer life has grown tremendously during this difficult season! If the Lord leads you, please pray for this work that God is raising up, that we cannot see clearly yet. We welcome your prayers for us personally too, but I believe we are just part of the bigger thing God is on the verge of doing. It will be His victory!

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12. Happy Birthday, Chicklet12!

So I blew right by my baby girl's birthday! She was 12 on September 6. (We celebrated on Facebook. She enjoyed all the comments!) I think I'm in denial that she's really getting that old.

B19 took this awesome photo of his little sister

She's the only one being homeschooled this year, so that's been an interesting adjustment. Personally, I have been really struggling with motivation for homeschooling. All I want to do is finish unpacking! So many boxes down the basement and out in the garage still untouched. But every day there's something more important to take care of, it seems, like laundry or lesson planning for our classical co-op or making dinner, because I foolishly bought fresh veggies and now I have to use them or lose them! 

She seems to be struggling too. She's old enough to do her lessons without me, except when she has questions; she's also old enough to have a host of other interests, like making rubber band bracelets on a loom, weaving pot holders with a different kind of loom, writing stories, and building "lockers" in her bedroom. That's the one thing she's jealous of, about B9 going to school--they have lockers in his elementary building. The one she went to for third grade, near our old house, didn't. She tried creating her own out of cardboard boxes, but they just didn't have that satisfying metal clang.

She thinks maybe she'd like to go to middle school for 7th grade next year. (They're bound to have lockers, right? :) I'm open to considering it, especially if B9 returns to school for 5th grade, which is likely. So to prepare her for that possibility, the plan is for us to "get serious" this year and have her do more and work harder than she did for elementary school. I've told her that I want her doing something school-related from the time she gets up until the time B9 returns from school. 

To get herself motivated to do her schoolwork, she's been pretending that it's her job. She gets up, puts on her "uniform" (includes a button-down white shirt and blue tie), and asks for a cup of coffee, to make it "official." Then she spreads out her books on the library table and "goes to work"! She also rode her bike to the library a few times, with her books in a backpack. I asked her if any adult has questioned her about why she's not in school, but they haven't. I guess they can see she's doing schoolwork!

I have a yard sale scheduled for next weekend, so I'm in the midst of a big push to get boxes open, "stuff" sorted out, and price everything that we can't use in this house. Once that's over, I look forward to spending more time with my delightful 6th grader. We have promised ourselves that one class she's going to take this year is Home Ec, or whatever they are calling it nowadays. She's taking a sewing class that starts up soon and I look forward to helping her with that project. We also want to do a weekly cooking class for her and a friend. 

One of my big goals for her this year is to figure out where her math gaps are and make sure she's up to speed. We signed up for ALEKS, which is amazing at doing exactly that, and she is enjoying working on math for longer than she ever has before. Another goal I have is to get her reading longer books and reading for longer periods of time, and I've been thrilled that just this week, she started The Witch of Blackbird Pond and hasn't. been. able. to. put. it. down. 

I'm so thankful that she is in no hurry to become a teenager. She tells everyone that she likes being a "tweenager." She is definitely maturing in so many ways, and can be a very grown-up conversationalist, but she is refreshingly child-like and unashamed to still play with dolls, Barbies (she makes movies with them), and other imaginary games, including "Streets of Chicago" in which she and her brother travel around the "alleys" formed by stacked boxes in the basement, pretending they are homeless orphans who have to steal play food to survive. They also play restaurant with the play food, which is a deluxe wooden set that Chicklet bought with her own money two summers ago at a garage sale. (I thought she was too old for it, but she has proved me wrong many times over!) She has such a sensitive heart toward God and others, and is quick to comfort and to please.

We all love her so much. May she continue to grow in wisdom and stature (well, not too much or too quickly...I'd like to keep her in pants that are long enough for awhile) and in favor with God and others.

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13. Giving

Last night, I heard an older, wiser priest say that in his ministry, he's seen two blocks to the work of the Holy Spirit:  unwillingness to forgive, and unwillingness to give.

I've thought about the need for forgiveness to clear blockages in our lives before, so my mind instantly went to his point about giving. As I held it up before the Lord, wondering if there was something He wanted to unblock there, or a ministry He wanted us to give to...I was surprised to hear Him say, "You're doing it already. It's your house."

I guess it's apparent to my readers that I've been wrestling all summer with the decision we made to buy this house, and I'm still holding it up before the Lord. I know we bought the house He indicated. I know we are exactly where He wants us; I've received confirmation after confirmation. It's just that I wouldn't have picked a house that needed this much work, especially when we're not the handy types who can do stuff ourselves. (Although Papa Rooster did actually take apart the framing around a pocket door last week to get it back on track, which was a project of several hours, and it's almost as good as new, except for the shrieking the door makes as you close it the last four inches or so. It's our early warning system, telling us when the half bath is occupied.)

I felt God asking me to view the money we're investing in this home differently, to see it as an investment in a ministry He has prepared for us. Among other things, it's a ministry of hosting and hospitality, which we've always done, no matter where we've lived. We've often had college students live with us, especially back in our Illinois home, and right now, we have a young man living in our basement. On Saturday, we ended up hosting a meeting of 16 leaders here, when our reservation on a room at the Kemper Center got bumped. It worked out so beautifully, I was amazed!

This house also seems like it's a place that ministers all by itself. The view alone soothes the soul. Every day Lake Michigan looks so different; it reminds me of the infinite creativity of God. But the house itself has a warmth and a peace that is palpable. A neighborhood teen, a friend of the young man living in our basement, visited us for the first time one night, and he said to me, "You know, your house is a warm house. I noticed it when I was here for the estate sale. It has a very warm feel to it." He's not the only one that's made similar comments, but it was interesting because he didn't know our family, and he sensed it in the house before we ever moved into it.

I have to admit that I get concerned about appearances, though. Investing in my own home doesn't look like sacrificial giving; I get to benefit by living in a spacious and beautiful place. But I would gladly have bought the tiny cottage two streets over! For my frugal personality, it's hard to spend money on myself. I can gladly write checks to missions, but to have to write a large check for a roof--just a small roof, at that!--just for maintenance; there's nothing that feels like ministry about that. The Lord also knows how much I'd prefer the security of money in the bank, not invested in a house. But He's saying, "Trust me for the future. I'm asking you to view your home as something more than a place for your family to live. This is My work, and I want you to invest freely in it. Do not fear the judgments of others. I understand how this is a sacrifice for you."

It was my idea to sell our old house and downsize, so we could more easily live on less. It was practical. It's what we needed to do, if we were going to transition to a full-time pastor's salary and have some financial security. It was an old and dear friend, a priest who visited us from another state, who challenged us, ""But did God tell you to downsize? Maybe God doesn't want you to downsize." And he was right. God asked us to do something that, for me, was even harder.

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14. Summer's End (Back to School)

It all starts today:  public school, our classical homeschooling co-op, the worship school and theater classes!

So here's the quick low-down for the school year.

The two oldest are not going to school, but working. B23 continues to work a couple shifts a week at a dollar store. He's not fast at unpacking boxes, but he's faithful to arrive at work at 5 a.m.! Blondechick21 just finished a summer of nannying for an attorney she knows from church, who invited her to come work part-time at her law firm this fall. She's hoping there will be enough filing and data entry to turn into a full-time position there! She's the only one not living at home; she's staying with a couple from our church who are graciously renting their second floor to her. It's a charming space, with alcoves and swing out windows, with views of lovely gardens in the neighbor's yard. If the bathroom weren't in the basement with the spiders and other creepy crawlies, it would be perfect. ;)

B19 is going to the School of Worship--the same school that Blondechick went to last year. It was such a rich year of discipleship and mentoring for her, and it seems like B19's class is going to be another great group of students. He anticipates lots of "bro time"--13 out of the 25 students are guys! He'll be in class from 8 to 3:30 daily--a big time commitment.

B15 will begin his sophomore year at the public high school. He's excited to be in Chorale this year--the school's top choir--and in Madrigals again. He took driver's ed this summer and has his permit, but  we are not sure about letting him get his license when he turns 16 in February--can't afford a sixth driver on our policy! We are hoping the two oldest can get some more hours at work and be able to start paying for their portion. Meanwhile, he has a ride to and from school with a neighbor who's a senior--a blessing that will net him several more hours of sleep a week compared to taking the bus.

Chicklet-almost-12 will be homeschooled again this year, but B9 is going to go to the local elementary school. We are in the same high school district in our new location, but it's a different elementary and middle school; the middle school has a terrible reputation, but the elementary school is outstanding, we hear. As I prayed about this year, I kept feeling a nudge from the Lord to put him there. 

It wasn't an easy decision, because I am excited about our next year with our homeschooling co-op! We were a Classical Conversations community last year, but to have more flexibility with what we do, we decided to become a co-op instead. We are still using the CC curriculum, with some modifications, but we are free to adjust the schedule, teachers and class sizes as we like. I'm especially eager to tweak the grammar and writing portion that I teach to 4th - 6th graders, to make the material more engaging, to focus on grammar usage as much or more than on memory work, and to include some more enjoyable writing assignments.

B9 has friends in the co-op too, which is the main reason why he didn't want to go to school. But I have a feeling that I'm going to be pretty distracted with house projects, at least for the fall, and I'm afraid I just won't have much patience or energy to sit with him and make sure he does his work. It's very tempting to delegate that task to someone else! Also Chicklet will get more done without him around, and she needs to have a good year, being in sixth grade, her first year of middle school. On the other hand, he will have homework, and there will be school communications and deadlines to stay on top of, and lunches to make and pay for, and all those things add up to a big chunk of time also.

I had trouble sorting out all the pros and cons, but couldn't get away from the feeling that it might just be a good thing for him to go. It will probably be more of a challenge for him than what I would be able to commit to providing this year, and I think he'll benefit from being pushed by someone other than me. A little positive peer pressure never hurt either, and he's quite social. We met his teacher and saw his classroom, and now he's pretty excited to start. We'll see how it goes!

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15. This Week's Project

So. There is a newish roof on the main part of the house, but this balcony had some issues, we knew.

First the railing came down...and yesterday the roof came up!

It's a good thing we decided to go ahead and take care of it before winter, the roofer said. It was pretty wet underneath the tin.

A big pile of rusty tin roof!

They cleaned and dried everything, then put down a new layer of fiberboard.

Then new roofing material rolled out over that, and the seams were heated and melted together.

Since the balcony was in deep shade when they finished, I thought I'd wait to get a nice sunny picture of the new roof in the morning. But it's raining! Guess we got the new roof on just in time.

The new white metal railing will be installed next week; then the roofers will come back and lay flashing around each post to make sure all is water-tight.

The roof is an extra-thick rubber membrane with gritty sand-like stones as a top layer. It's fine to walk on and put patio furniture on, and hopefully light enough in color that it won't be too hot. We'll probably get an indoor/outdoor area rug or two, next spring, plus we'll need some more chairs. Always something!

But so glad we did it now.

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16. Yes, But How Are You?

It has been a stressful summer.

Sold a house--very emotional and grief-filled.

Lived with friends--fabulously wonderful! (More on that.)

Bought a house--also very emotional, and a decision that was--and continues to be--faith-stretching.

Trying to get settled in new house--hasn't been easy. We keep getting distracted by house projects--floors, plumbing, kitchen, have to do something about the chimney and the tin roof/balcony--and can't seem to get unpacked. Plus some rooms don't exist yet--where do we put those belongings now?

So how am I doing, really?

And the answer is...

I feel quite well, considering everything. Though I am easily overwhelmed with all there is to do, I can only do what I can do in a day, and the rest can wait till tomorrow. We have the whole church coming over for a house blessing on Sunday afternoon. We still have boxes everywhere, and piles of stuff that I don't know where to put or haven't had time to sort, but it's okay. The house can be blessed, friends can visit and rejoice with us, and I'm not hiding the fact that this is my life right now!

Although the summer's events have been emotionally draining and I am mentally and physically very tired, I am buoyed up by a strong sense of rightness about it all. So many little confirmations make me believe that God is leading us down this path. It's been a rocky, uneven path, with overgrowth that we have to stop and clear away at points, but He keeps beckoning us to keep following, even with the occasional smiling reminder that He never promised it would be an easy path, but that it would be worth it in the end. He's used so many people to confirm and encourage us.

Here's one example--the friends who invited us to live with them while we didn't have a house. It ended up to be about 7 weeks total, and those weeks exactly coincided with the wife's recovery period from a sudden and serious abdominal surgery. She wasn't allowed to drive or go to work, and as a strong extrovert, it would have been a very difficult time for her. In her own words:

Your family's presence saved me from the loneliness and false sense of uselessness that would have hit me hard during my convalescence had it just been [my husband] and me.  You also saved him from being overwhelmed by having to meet all of his wife's needs for socializing.  Although he has never complained of being overwhelmed by me, I think I could have approached the limit.  When I was home on maternity leave with [her son], I became a garrulous maniac that made store clerks run the other way - really!  God was definitely providing for everyone.

For our family, staying with this couple felt like several weeks in a vacation condo with them! They have a beautiful, large, restful home. Our kids loved their dog, their neighborhood, their jokes and their food. They both love to cook, so every day we'd make meal plans early enough for someone to pick up groceries, and then we'd all help chop, prep, bake and/or grill. The husband is a massage therapist, so we took advantage of his conveniently located office (in the next room over from our bedroom), and the wife is a psychologist, which made our mealtime conversations extra-stimulating. The two husbands began most days with morning prayer together, and the wife and I have one of those friendships where we never, ever, run out of things to talk about, so it was fabulous for us both to have so much free time at the same time. Our time there was such a gift, and the timing was a strong confirmation that we had done the right thing to sell our old house when we did.

Another huge stressor this summer has been a situation at church. It has paralleled our move in some ways--emotionally draining, filled with grief, and faith-stretching. It's been the same kind of rocky, uneven, obstacle-ridden path, but God has been continually sending us the encouragements to hang in there. People we've been praying for have started coming to church, have started asking the right questions about their relationship with God, are being transformed in huge ways! Visitors have come--and come back! There has been a new freedom in our worship and in individual expression and gifting. This Sunday, one of our disabled youths is giving the sermon!, in partnership with an elder. There have been so many encouraging things alongside the challenges.

So I am well. Exhausted, but well. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 comes to mind:  "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

The previous verse also applies:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

It is the Lord who is sustaining me, empowering me, working through me and encouraging me!

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17. Gift

It's funny to me that I ended my last post with a paragraph about how this house feels like a gift. "Gift" is on my mind again today, but with a whole different set of thoughts, so I'm glad I already gave some context last time!

I was speaking to the Lord this morning about His gift, and wondering if He knew that it would require a good bit of maintenance. I suspect that He did, but one can't help but have a few mixed feelings about a gift house when one is expecting a plumber for the sixth workday in a row. At what point is it okay to look a gift house in the mouth? ;)

So we had this tiny leak in the basement. Just a few drops. It would get a little worse, then seem to dry up. We had plumbers here giving us quotes on the third floor attic project, and one of them spent a little time looking into it and gave us his free opinion that it must be the second floor shower drain. Probably the pan under the drain was made of lead--typical of an old house--and typically they crack.

He didn't get back to us about actually doing the work, so we called a friend's cousin that we used before in our old house. He came over and agreed that could be it, but he suggested we gamble that the lead pan was replaced in the 60's when the bathrooms were updated, and instead we try the much cheaper option of resealing the grout, which needed to be done anyway.

That didn't stop the leak, but in the process, he figured out it couldn't be the pan. It looked like it might be a bad pipe, though, so it would be a simple fix to just replace it--very accessible, right there in the ceiling of the basement.

Okay, I wasn't home for this part, but the pipe?  It was a boiler pipe, not a plumbing pipe. Oops. It began to shoot out water and awful black sludge that had built up in the system that we never would have known about otherwise. They had to move boxes and stuff in a hurry and they ruined a couple of my towels, but hey, in a plumbing emergency, who's going to call their wife and ask where the old towels are, right? (I've been rehearsing this regularly as part of my forgiveness process. :)

Anyway, it was a providential mistake in the end, because it meant we got the bad pipe replaced and the boiler flushed out too. But the plumber was stymied as to what was causing the leak. He found a sink drain problem in the half bath that needed attention, but it wasn't causing the leak. He finally had to open up a wall to see what was going on. Yes, he had to cut a hole--not one but two, as it turned out--in my 111-year-old plaster dining room wall. I couldn't watch. At least our new access panel will be covered up by bookshelves for the foreseeable future.

But there was nothing! Everything was bone dry where he expected to see water damage.

So they moved the fridge again, because the leak was directly under it, just to contemplate--and this time, they noticed a tiny bit of dampness around a crack in the vinyl tile underneath it. A little digging revealed that the subfloor underneath was completely rotten. It appeared that the fridge might be leaking, but we couldn't feel or see any water coming from it. Our plumber feared one last possibility--that "some redneck plumber" may have put plumbing where it didn't belong, under the lower cabinets. Since we were about to put in a new floor, he had to rule out that possibility, so he cut a little hole to investigate that and found no pipes. It had to be the fridge. (Later, after it was pulled out, it began leaking in earnest. It was nice to know for sure, finally!)

And that is why I had to buy a new refrigerator and a new floor. To put in the new floor, he had to move the 50-year-old stove out, and he begged me to just buy a new one already, especially since the warming oven above the stove didn't work. But I knew if I bought a new stove, I also had to buy a new range hood or a microwave to put in the gap where the old warming oven had been, so I resisted for awhile. Our renovating budget was supposed to go to the third floor project, not the kitchen! But after his dire predictions about how much it would cost to fix the old oven and how much longer it would last (not long), I gave in. God must want me to have new appliances.

Fridge, microwave, stove--check. I picked it all out in about 15 minutes, based on price, size--there were only about 3 refrigerators that would fit in our space--and the sales guy's recommendations. It all happened too fast. I had looked forward to planning my new kitchen! I thought I'd have lots of time to read appliance reviews and play around with ideas for the floor, countertops, backsplash and wall paint color. I've gotten better at winging it in many areas of my life, but I still enjoy planning, so I struggled with feeling a little out of sorts about the whole thing. I went to bed exhausted, worried that my quick decisions would not be good ones, wondering what God was doing with the rearrangement of priorities and refusing to think about the plumber's bill.

As it turns out, I'm thrilled with my appliances and my floor, and the plumber, an acquaintance who has become a friend after six days in our home, practically donated most of his services. Another gift!

In the midst of all this, I got a note from a friend who had spend a Sunday afternoon with us recently. She wrote, "Now I can see why God gave you guys that house. As we were driving away, our daughter said, "I never wanted to leave that deck." She spoke for all of us. You both have such a miraculous gift of hospitality--and I can't imagine any better setting for it. The wide Lake Michigan vista backdrop and the sheltered "secret garden" backyard--the vast and the protected together-- the two archetypes that speak most deeply to my heart, and I imagine I'm not alone. And I can't think of anyone who would use it better than your family."

Another friend, not normally a guy who speaks this way, told us in the midst of all the plumbing problems (and getting disappointing news and quotes on other work that needs to be done) that we should not let ourselves be discouraged, that we should still believe in God's purposes for us in this house.

Between the two of them and the Lord speaking to my own heart, I'm in a good place again. Even though the time spend on the kitchen set me back another week in the unpacking--and we scheduled a house blessing for this weekend! There will be boxes everywhere, but I'm eager to dedicate this gift back to the Lord, for His purposes and plans.

Old fridge and flooring

New fridge, new floor

Old stove with oven above

New stove and microwave (electrical outlet for microwave to be installed soon!)

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18. New House

So we have a new house. :)

Yes, we are living there now. We had to wait another week after we closed on July 14, to have the floors refinished and then wait for the fumes to diminish. We still have barely any furniture moved in, though--just beds, our dining room table, a couch and various chairs.

We've been gradually getting everything we had brought with us to the garage and basement of the friends we were staying with, plus I have most of my kitchen and pantry items out of storage and mostly unpacked now. But we still have three storage units full of the rest of our stuff that we need to bring in to the house! One more week till the floors are fully cured, so we tell ourselves it's probably better to wait and not cover them with boxes yet anyway. And hey, we've already paid for the storage.

What you really want to see is pictures.

Probably not smart to post a photo here of the front of the house, but here's the back. The part under the sloped roof is the original 1903 brick Victorian. The part under the balcony is a 1965 addition. This back side of the house faces east, toward Lake Michigan.

Next we have the view from our balcony on the night we moved in. There was a Twilight Jazz concert at the bandshell, and you can even see a sailboat on the lake--it's a little white dot near the cloud line.

Our garage and back yard--

The 1965 addition. The wall on the right is brick, the original exterior wall. We did not re-do these floors--they haven't been covered by carpet and still look pretty good. 

This is the view across the front of the house, standing in the living room, looking across the foyer into the dining room. That's a smaller foyer leading to the front door, to the left, and between it and the dining room there is a roomy closet. In this photo, the floor guys had just sanded the living room floor.

Our 111-year-old floors are old-growth Oregon fir.

Master bedroom floor before...

And after!

A few more "afters"--

Here's the finished dining room, with the original 1950's wallpaper that I'm keeping, for now!

The living room (we're keeping the blue for now)...

and the other bedrooms.

B23 will get the smallest bedroom. No wallpaper, faces the lake.

Chicklet11 and B9 are sharing this room for now. Rosebud wallpaper, faces the street.

Everybody loves the wallpaper in the bicycle room! B19 and B15 are sharing this room with a lake view for now.
In the interests of getting something posted today, I will save kitchen and bathroom photos for another post! But here are a couple shots of the attic, which has been a preoccupation lately, as we've been talking to contractors about finishing it.

We plan to put a master bedroom at this end, and a library/office for Father Rooster in the end with the stairway, with a dormer out toward the lake to create a nice seating/meeting area as well. We'll put a bathroom in the existing dormer area towards the middle, with the three low windows in the first photo above.

One last photo. While we were waiting on the floors, we had a friend pressure-wash and stain our deck!

This was taken at 9:30 a.m.--we have dappled sunlight on it almost all morning. (Isn't our neighbor's house beautiful?) We've spent a lot of time out here already.

The second floor balcony is going to be a great outdoor space as well, once we deal with the peeling paint on the tin roof; we've been consulting on that too. We think we'll cover it with plywood, a rubber membrane and indoor/outdoor carpeting. But first we'll wait for the dormer in the roof above to be completed, since they are likely to set up equipment on the balcony during construction. Dominoes!

So many dominoes! I don't want to move a lot of stuff into the basement until we have shelves set up, and I don't want to set up all the shelves until the floor is swept, and I can't sweep the floor until.... It's the same story with the garage, the mudroom and other areas I'm trying to organize.

So I'm off to organize! But first let me say how thankful I am, every morning, for the gift of this house. That word--"gift"--just keeps coming up for me, tied to the house and this whole move, in so many ways that I am still unwrapping and receiving almost daily, so to speak--it seems like there is more to this gift than I even imagined, and we are receiving gifts related to it, too. Our kids feel it too, even the ones who were the most reluctant to leave our other house, who were not excited about us buying an old house--they are falling in love with this house, the neighborhood, "Lake living," and something intangible about being here. I think it has to do with being where God wants us.

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19. Watching God Work

It's been an exciting Lent so far!

That's not one of the usual adjectives to describe Lent, I realize. But it's been true this year. As a church, we've been calling our congregation to pray very specifically this Lent for Kenosha and our church's role here. We take our name, Light of Christ, literally. We long to be Christ's light dispelling the darkness of a depressed city and of lives that are shadowed by darkness and hopelessness.

We have been meeting in groups throughout the week to pray. Though I haven't been part of all these meetings, it's been exciting--there's no other word for it--to hear how God has been leading folks to pray, and how He is answering those prayers!

I can't tell other people's stories, but just in the past week, several things happened that I can share. On Sunday, one of Chicklet's friends came to church with us. Afterwards, she told Chicklet she had never been baptized and she wanted to be! The next day Blondechick21 talked with her about what it all meant, and prayed with her to commit her life to the Lord. The odd thing was, we weren't praying specifically for this little girl; we had never even thought to invite her to church before, I must confess. But we had been praying specifically for God to send another friend for Chicklet at our church, since one of her church friends had moved away. On the same Sunday that this new friend came, we found out that Chicklet's one remaining friend at church is also moving away, which would have left her the only girl her age at church. But now she has this new friend, if her parents allow her to keep coming with us. And even if they don't...look what praying that specific prayer for Chicklet brought about in her sweet friend's life!

Then at Campus Life this week, at the public high school that B15 and B18 attend, a whole bunch of kids gave their lives to the Lord. It was a move of the Spirit--the leaders just invited people to come forward if they needed prayer for burdens to be lifted. Kids started pouring forward, to the point that the guitarist, who was just strumming, asked B18 to take over so he could go help pray for people. I can't help but wonder if B18's ministry in music, then, became a factor, since I believe when gifted people are operating in their gifts, the Spirit's power is poured out! (And it's become clear recently that B18 is not only musically gifted, but also spiritually gifted to minister through music--another exciting thing to see!) Our sons never heard an exact number of kids who prayed to receive Christ, but they both say "it was a lot."

Another incident this week was a conversation I had with a mom who didn't know if she had ever been baptized. Should she be? She had never really thought about it. Her kids weren't baptized and she didn't know if her husband ever had been. I told her different denominations have different beliefs about sacraments, but that just as most of us all agree that taking communion is important (though we may not agree on how often), baptism is the other sacrament that most denominations would agree is important, if not necessary. We talked about what the Bible says about it, that it goes hand in hand with salvation. And like Eucharist, if the Lord even just strongly suggested it...why wouldn't you? She sounded eager to discuss it with her husband, and--who knows?-- maybe that whole family will be baptized now, because of that conversation.

Finally, our house. Along with all this prayer going on, there has been a sense of preparation for the things God is going to do at our church, including the provision for how to pay a full-time rector. (Hearing last week that one of our key families is moving away did not seem like a step in the right direction, either!)  But it's not a time to act, to plan, to figure it out; it's a season to pray and to prepare. The fulfillment will come later.

In prayer, we decided not to take action with our house right now either. We were going to list it with a realtor this weekend, but we will wait till Lent is over and list on the Friday after Easter. It is still informally for sale by owner--I've listed it on Craigslist and on Zillow, and we've had about one showing a week through those avenues--so if God wants to bring us a buyer during Lent, He certainly still could. But during Lent we won't have that flurry of activity and stress that comes when you first list a house, and I'm praying that it won't be needed at all--that the right buyer would come along before then, and that we would be able to sell with the bare minimum of effort and stress on our family. In any case, we invite you join us in prayer for the right buyer to come along in exactly God's timing, especially when our next house, which I know God is preparing for us even now, is available!

Meanwhile, we have a little more time to chip away at projects that need doing in the house. Why does it seem like no matter how much I get done, the list stays the same length??

Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement of seeing You work! May others be encouraged also, toward prayer, toward trust, toward faith in You..

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20. House Update: The Long Version

Where to start??

Everything has happened so fast!

The story so far:  Anticipating that Papa Rooster would be able to quit his sales/consulting/executive job and become full-time priest at Light of Christ sometime in the next year, we crunched some numbers and realized we needed to downsize in order to live on a much smaller salary. Even with all six kids presently living at home, four of them are 15 or over, so while downsizing may be cramp us all a bit in the short term, it seems reasonable for long-term living. It wasn't a decision based on numbers alone; we also felt like God was asking us to do it, which was the more important thing in our minds.

That was last year, and our target date to put the house up for sale was mid-March. Our hope and prayer was that the whole transition would go quickly and we'd be done selling, buying and moving early enough to still have a summer left over! We had our basement family room and two bedrooms repainted. I spent many hours spackling and touching up the paint in high-traffic areas. In February, a team of women from church helped wash walls, windows, woodwork, light switches and more. We had the carpets cleaned, and then while we were waiting for mid-March to arrive, I decided to post the house on Craigslist, just to see what might happen. Then someone told me you could list your house on Zillow, as a for sale by owner, so I did that too.

And we started having a few showings. First friends or friends-of-friends, none of whom were really ready to buy. Then we had several that came from agents who had seen it on Zillow. Our date in mid-March had arrived, and I was anxious about whether to go ahead and list it as scheduled with our realtor. The pace of the showings we were getting was so manageable, and both Papa Rooster and I were dreading listing it because we knew there would probably be a lot of showings on it initially, and all the activity of constantly cleaning and leaving just felt so out-of-synch with what we were calling everyone at Light of Christ to do during Lent--which was to enter into the season not with activity, but with increased time given to prayer and listening. We envisioned this as a "first chapter," a way to for our congregation to prepare for the next season, or "second chapter," after Lent when the leadership would begin to take more action toward figuring out how to bring Father Rooster on full-time.

But God moved faster than expected and brought us two offers at once, just three weeks after we listed the house on Zillow. One was for our full price, but had a home sale contingency; we negotiated with the other buyers and ended up settling on a price just under our asking price.

It all happened so fast that our hearts and minds could barely keep up. Suddenly we weren't sure about selling! Had we heard wrong? Were we really supposed to give up this house? We called on others to lift us up in prayer, and we started hearing back some great words of reassurance. "In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." "Watch...watch what I am about to do, unfolding the plan that is already secure." "It is the offering up of your 5 loaves and 2 fishes...all that you had to feed yourself...a costly sacrifice, but watch what God will do with it!" We even found confirmation on the lips of our neighbor, the realtor we were going to list with, who said, "You really got that divine intervention thing goin' on, because let me tell you, NOBODY gets two offers at once and gets basically the asking price on their house just 3 weeks into a FSBO! That just NEVER happens. God must really be lookin' out for you!"

(Later, we began to wonder if we had not set our price high enough, even though it seems we did very well, but the interesting thing is that I didn't change anything on Zillow--nothing indicates that the house is under contract--and we have not had even one more inquiry since the day the buyers came through. Another confirmation, it seems, that God did it.)

So we have begun looking at houses. Papa Rooster and others in our church feel strongly that our next house will be in the same neighborhood as the Kemper Center, where our church meets--not just a 5 minutes' car ride near, but walking distance. Narrowing the neighborhood down that much makes this a pretty tall order for God to fill! The Kemper Center is right on Lake Michigan, so we can't look west of it at all. To the north just a few blocks is the commercial district of downtown. Most of our options lie east or south of it in what is called the historic district: Big old showplaces that need work, are overpriced and have really high taxes because they are so near the lake, or small bungalows, cottages or Victorians that need work, have high taxes and are too small for our family. Moderately sized, moderately priced homes are largely unavailable in this area.

We found one that we seriously considered for a couple days. It would have been quite a snug fit for all of us but it was doable because it had one thing that hardly any homes in this area have--a dry, square, finishable basement. We could have added two more bedrooms and a small office in the basement, and still kept the large family room that was already finished there. Plus there were three decent size bedrooms above ground, a kitchen beyond what I could ever have asked for or imagined, a 3-season sunroom, a gorgeous living room with hardwood floors and lots of windows, exactly what our ideal living room would look like, an attached garage (another thing that you just don't get in the historic district), two beautifully re-done full bathrooms...all on just a bit smaller scale than Papa Rooster was comfortable with. We invited friends from church to come, especially to look at the basement with us and make sure it was finishable as we wanted--which it was--but they all said they had trouble seeing us there; they thought it was just too small, and the layout didn't open it up enough on the main floor.

It was hard for me to accept, even though God actually woke me up and spoke to me in the middle of the night--even before our friends weighed in--telling me that this house was an Ishmael. I knew it was Him, I knew I was going to have to accept it, but when I woke up in the morning, I really struggled. I can totally believe that we can find something bigger, but I struggle to believe that we will find something bigger that is still affordable on a pastor's salary, and this house was already on the way upper end of affordable. And doggone it, even if this house was an Ishmael--not God's chosen way of providing for us, just as Abraham's son with Sarah's maid Hagar was not the son God had promised--it was an Ishmael I could totally love and be happy in! Our kids were so disappointed too. So many neat things about the corner lot and yard, the location, and the many charms of the house.

We have basically looked at all possibilities in the area now, and all we can do is wait for something new to come on the market. Thankfully, it's still early in the selling season, which seems to have been delayed this year because of the hard winter. Our closing date, when we have to have all our belongings out of our house, looms just six weeks from today. It's been so difficult for me to even think about packing, since I don't know where we and our stuff are headed next. Friends have offered to put us all up in their home for a transition time of a few weeks, but where should we store all our stuff--short-term, or long-term? Will we end up needing to rent something for a while? What to store, what to get rid of, what can be inaccessible indefinitely, what will we need access to?

So I haven't began packing, really. It's Holy Week, and Father Rooster and I are doing our best to push house worries away and enter into the journey, which began last night with a beautiful Maundy Thursday service. We washed each other's feet, and I am grateful to say that he has handled my conflicting emotions and disappointment so well, in a way that has pulled me closer to him rather than separating us. He's had a sense all along that we wouldn't find our next house before Easter, and I am doing my best to trust and have faith.

Today, we have a Stations of the Cross service this afternoon, and a Good Friday service tonight. Tomorrow, I have a full morning of final run-throughs and sound checks for the Easter Vigil readings that I am directing. I think they are all going to be really good again this year, and not because everything is super well-rehearsed--it's not--but I can just sense that the Holy Spirit is going to fill each one beyond what we have rehearsed or can give in our own abilities! Plenty of cracks for Him to fill in. :)

I am also excited that Chicklet's friend, mentioned in the last post, is being baptized at the Vigil, and her whole family is coming! Her mom came with her to Palm Sunday last week and really enjoyed it. We really loved their family; we got to know them better when we had them over to discuss the baptism. We all agreed that our daughters' friendship has been such a special thing for both of them--they are two sweet peas in a pod! A big bummer for the two of them that we are moving. We will have to go to extra lengths to get them together. 

A blessed Holy Weekend to all!

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21. Holy Week Report

My heart is so full! What a glorious Holy Week it was.

This year, I don't have a lot of time or pictures, since we didn't have a photographer at any of the services, so I can't do the kind of picture post I've done in previous years. Instead, I am just going to let the words of others speak for me. These were all collected from social media, so I am trusting that their authors don't mind. (If anybody wants credit, let me know. :)

Attended my first Easter Vigil last night at Light Of Christ. Loved it!!! Next year I think we are going to make attending Light of Christ for all of Holy Week a priority!

Wow! What a wonderful Easter Vigil service! Jumpin' priests, clappin' deacons...and bells and alleluias everywhere! Praise God for his love and mercy!

Here's a little video of what she's referring to, when the whole congregation acclaims "Alleluia! The Lord is risen!" and bursts forth with a "Holy Noise":

Easter Vigil at Light of Christ is always a powerful experience, and last night was no exception. Particularly moving to me was to witness the baptism of a girl who recently came to faith. Charlotte Mason wrote, "What a thought of joy at the baptismal font, of consolation throughout life amid the tossing of the waves of this troublesome world, is this of the divine Spirit coming to us, also, in the likeness of a dove." The divine Spirit came last night - in the baptism, in the prayers, and in the worship. I know I did not bring Him - I found Him there. He brought to my mind a vivid remembrance of the day when I was 16 years of age, sitting in my room, and I came to faith. What an indescribable gift, and one that is renewed every day.

The little girl referred to is Chicket's friend. What a beautiful moment. It was so wonderful to have her whole family there!

Every Easter Vigil is wonderful. Each one has its own golden moments. Last Saturday was no exception.

This year we had welcome gifts for visitors!

The altar on Easter Sunday morning

Here is the teaser video I put up on Facebook of my two sons in rehearsal for the Ezekiel reading, in the valley of the Dry Bones:

And here is a little more. Let's just say that when they actually gave the reading, B18 had a black folder in hand, not an iPhone...!

I wish I had recorded snippets of others. All went so well. I was so pleased!

Finally, this moving excerpt from a parishioner's journal about a previous Good Friday service at our church. I loved it because I had a similar sense of joy and love fill me this year at the veneration of the cross, when we place the cross on the ground and invite everyone to come forward and pray, with their hand or head upon it.

"_________ preached. He stressed how Christ paid for us completely, with no merit or contribution from us. Normally at Good Friday, I feel that I am to feel sorrow for Christ's suffering, or sorrow for my sin. I feel that I am to be somehow sad, dressed in black.

"At the veneration of the cross, I walked up to the cross, knelt down by it, and touched my head to it. I was at the base of the cross. In my mind's eye I looked up towards the top of the cross. I saw the cross not against the rug but against a clear blue sky with sunlight streaming around it.

"The music started. Instead of sorrowful tunes, it was a light and happy piece. I felt the joy well up in me that was supposed to be reserved for Easter. Good Friday is the black and sad day, but I felt warmth and joy. The sunlight from my image of the cross seemed to radiate directly to my heart. I felt as if Christ’s love was complete. I held up my hand to receive the streaming light. I remembered my confession from today. I felt the light stream back to the situations where I had sinned. I felt Christ’s mercy wash over me and cover each of those sins completely.

"__________ sang Rock of Ages. The joy and delight in my heart was complete. It was in the cross that I found the perfect joy of Christ’s love. I understand now why Catherine [of Siena] said that this love should motivate us to serve God completely – she basked in that love every day.

"Then we said the confession. My normal mood is to focus on sorrow for sin and humility. I make myself feel sorry for my sins. I wear it like a weight, like pouring ashes over myself. Suddenly the words of the confession seemed to light up on the page, as if the letters were actually in gold. The words were pure joy. I saw that I was 'lucky' to pray this prayer. It was a feeling of good fortune. It was like winning the lottTery – to say these words was to enter into the fullness of Christ’s love and mercy. I wanted to laugh. I almost whispered the words. Confession as the sweet and joyous pleasure – because by being nothing, I had the great reward – Christ and His love.

"The images were so real to me – I knew I had consolation from God. I knew I would forget it – so I had to write it down."

If anyone else wants to draw my attention to a social media posting that I missed, or send me their impressions, I would gladly add them!

Wish I had time to write more. We had so many little hitches in the first part of the Easter Vigil service, for example, but Father Rooster took lemons and made lemonade with them in his wonderful Vigil homily. Even the mistakes gave glory to God!

Praise Jesus! He is risen, and by his stripes, we are healed!

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22. Sacrifice

There are sacrifices, and there are sacrifices.

When we first were presented with the idea that Papa Rooster might come on full-time at LOC in the next year, we prayed. We talked, we crunched numbers, we prayed some more, and we felt reasonably certain that the prudent thing would be to downsize. Our mortgage was our biggest monthly expense, and it seemed reasonable that we could find something else somewhere in Kenosha--not as big, not as nice--that could house our family of eight and still be the ministry center our home has always been. It would be a sacrifice, but God would provide, and it would be worth it.

That prudential wisdom was confirmed by PR feeling a strong sense of the Lord telling him "Sell the house now." We responded as quickly as we could, and when our house was almost ready, we put it up for sale by owner. We assumed we'd end up listing it, but if God wanted to save us money and bring us a buyer, we were giving Him a chance. And He did!

Selling our house was easy--way easier than we expected. But buying was a different story. As we began looking at houses, it became clear that it would not be easy to find something in the neighborhood near our church facility, which was our deep desire. It was also the prayer of many in our congregation, we discovered, independently, which kept confirming our own sense of call to that location. Earthly wisdom would say that a short drive away is still close, so we looked at a number of possible houses that were a little farther out, but they seemed all wrong. They were too far away. 
We felt God nudging us into a certain small radius from the church, in order to be where He wants us to be and to do the ministry He wants us to do. 

This was not the sacrifice I was prepared to make! I wanted lots of options to choose from. Instead, 
our list of possible homes shrank to nearly nothing. We had seen all six or seven properties available in that neighborhood, and they were either too big and expensive or too small for our family. I was really looking forward to downsizing and having a smaller, cozier home that would be easier to care for. Instead, it began looking more and more like we were going to have to buy something almost as big, that cost more than the house we are leaving. Could this really be what God wanted? And yet, He gave us peace and continual confirmation that indeed, He did.

Furthermore, thanks to miscalculation and miscommunication, instead of receiving a hefty tax refund as usual, we owed for the first time in twenty years--exactly the amount that we had in savings, which we had planned to use as a down payment along with our tax refund and whatever we make on the sale of our current house. That circumstance made us investigate whether we should take money out of our 401K for a down payment, in order to afford something in a higher price range. We talked to a CPA and crunched more numbers. By then we were wishing we had thought of this before we sold our house, but much as we hate to leave it, we knew that it wouldn't have been right to refinance and continue living in our current home. We felt a peace that God was very intentionally relocating us. That was what this move was about. To be where He wanted us, we might have to tap retirement funds in order to buy a more expensive house--a sacrifice of a different sort than we had planned.

We began to ask everyone we knew, including total strangers out gardening, if they knew of anyone in that neighborhood that might be interested in selling. We followed up on several leads. One that kept coming up was this one house whose owner had passed away. It wasn't for sale, as far as we knew, and if it were, it would be too expensive. It was really close to our church facility though--the location was perfect. If it were to come available, we would have to seriously consider it.

Jumping ahead a bit, it did become available for us to see, though it is not on the market, and it has become clear to us that God wants us to pursue this house. We brought friends, family and church leaders with us into three very different houses, of different sizes and price points, and there was nearly unanimous agreement that neither of the other two were "it." This house, however, feels special, and some of our leaders felt clearly that this house was connected to God's mission for Light of Christ, as well as for our family. No one can draw a diagram on a napkin to explain it, but that conviction just won't go away, even as we consider the difficulties of buying this house. 

Because it will be expensive to buy and make livable for our family. It is honestly not the ideal house for us. There are two other comparably priced properties available which could work as well and have been fully updated--why not buy one of them instead? It's been a sacrifice for me to turn my back on them. It doesn't make sense on an earthly level. It's kind of another sacrifice--not to be able to explain rationally why we should spend money this way, when it goes against every grain of my frugal, common-sense being.

We are going to make an offer and see what God will do. We invite you to pray with us!

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23. Settled

I do apologize to my blogging friends who are not also my Facebook friends--in all the press and pressure of the last couple weeks, I didn't even post a short update! But it has been less than a week since we heard, on the same day that we closed on our old house, that our offer was accepted! We will close July 11 on the house that I mentioned in my last post. It's weird--I still wonder what we are doing buying this house--but the experience has been like getting caught up in a river current carrying us inexorably in this direction, and along with that current of events has come a peace and reassurance that God is the one moving us along. The house doesn't seem like a final destination--it's more like getting started on the right road. I'm just eager to see where it leads!

So that's settled. We have a place to live, in just another month or so.

We are also getting settled into our generous friends' home. Papa Rooster and I have our own bedroom in the basement, and B23 and B15 are sharing a bedroom upstairs. Chicklet and B9 sleep on a huge couch in the basement family room, inches away from a wonderful Lego storage area and a Wii. (We've never had one, so this is like the best vacation condo ever to them.) We have our own full bathroom down in the basement, and I should mention that this basement has 9-foot ceilings and windows everywhere, so we couldn't be more comfortable. Two other generous families are hosting Blondechick21 and B19, separately, and they are happy and comfortable as well.

Now if I could just find everything! During that last week in our old house, it was so crazy. I kept having to drop everything to drive to a theater in Milwaukee an hour away for the show Chicklet was in and I was helping to direct. (If I had guessed that we would sell our house so quickly, I would never have agreed to be on the directing team--but it was a great experience, despite the awful timing!) At the end, others packed up all the stuff that you leave till last because you use it all the time, so of course that's the stuff I've been struggling to find. We were running out of boxes, too, so it got packed in laundry baskets, trash cans, duffel bags, etc. along with all the stuff no one knew what to do with. We weren't allowed to put household chemicals or food in storage, so we have all the household cleaners and toiletries from 5 bathrooms, plus the kitchen and laundry room, and boxes and garbage bags of pantry items to sort through as well--all in the garage and storage room at the house where we are staying.

Unpacking and repacking--that's my plan for this afternoon! And just in time, I hope, because the lady of the house is coming home from the hospital in the next 24 hours or so! She had to have a sudden abdominal surgery that has kept her there for nearly a week now. The one silver lining of the trial--which thankfully she can't really appreciate--was that she wasn't here for the worst of the invasion of her home.

So many people at our church, and neighbors and other friends too, have been so much help to us in the last month. People lent us boxes and brought us meals. They packed box after box. One woman--new to our church--cleaned all five bathrooms, God bless her!! Friends took our two youngest kids. They moved our furniture and many, many boxes into storage. On moving day, Blondechick put out the word to her classmates at the School of Worship, and a half dozen international students showed up to do much of the heavy lifting in exchange for pizza and Coke! They had such great attitudes and servants' hearts, and it seemed like God's timing because they were all killing time between graduation and their flights back to Switzerland and Germany. They didn't have jobs or school like the other young people that would have liked to help us out but couldn't on a Tuesday--we'll hit them up again in another month when we have to move it all one more time, but hey, it will be a fresh team! And there were those that spent the better part of a week helping us already...and will do it all again in a month, we know. We had friends still at the house with us at 1 a.m. when we carried out the last box. We are truly blessed...and so, so thankful.

But we are DONE. And as settled as we can be, for a few weeks--or nearly so!

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24. Not Happy With Google


That was the sound of me kissing my dear little blog after a week of not being able to access it.

Let me just use the power of the internet to say I am not happy with Google, who owns Blogger now. For the past week, every time I tried to log on to my blog, I got a message--from Google--that said they were working hard to restore my access; try again in a few hours.

Days went by--not hours--and no change. So I posted my issue on a Google/Blogger Help Forum and got no response.

More days went by--still no response from Google--and finally I figured out on my own that the issue might be that somehow Blogger thought I was my husband, because somehow his account has become linked with mine on my laptop, and I noticed his account was marked the default account. I kept signing in as a different user, but apparently it wasn't signing him out completely. After some poking around the internet, I ran across a list of Google products that do not support multiple users, and Blogger was on the list. After a bit more searching on how to change the default account, I was able to completely sign him out and log myself on, and finally--it worked!

What a relief!

It's making me think hard about transferring my blog to another platform, though. I've been happy with Blogger for a long time, but not with Google. I hate that Google links users--why?? I hate that with Google it's impossible to switch my primary email on my profile--I am stuck with an account I didn't even mean to create, never used, never will use. I hate that they link products--why do I have to sign in to Google to sign in to Blogger? And if my son comes along to check his Gmail account on my laptop one fine day, then I will have TWO other Google profiles linked to my account. And they have products--like Blogger--that get confused when you have multiple users!

Nope, not happy with Google. But thrilled to be able to access my blog again!

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25. Finishing Up the School Year Strong

With all the house excitement, I‘ve neglected to post anything about the end of our school year, but it’s worth mentioning! We had two graduations—B19’s from high school, and Blondechick’s from the School of Worship. We had a nice closing program for the Classical Conversations group which Chicklet11 and B9 were in this year, in which I taught the Essentials class. B14 completed his first year of high school successfully. We had a graduation party for B19, after our move, at the house where we are staying, so that’s done. Overall, it was a good school year indeed!

B19 is our first “homeschool graduate.” I have to use quotation marks because the irony is that he really wasn’t homeschooled at all for high school. For 9th grade, he was at a Christian school. For 10th and 11th grades, he was enrolled in a public virtual school; he took two college classes as a junior as well. For his senior year, we planned for him to take two classes at the public high school and two classes at the local college, in order for him to graduate from high school with about 18 college credits. He stuck to that plan first semester, but second semester he ended up taking only one class at college so that he could add another high school “class”—an internship at an elementary school, since he’d like to become a teacher for that age group. He enjoyed those fifth graders very much!

We didn’t do the homeschool graduation ceremony, since he really wasn’t part of the homeschool group. We had an open house, and we created a diploma, although we still have to print it out and give it to him. (Minor details!) I also need to create an official transcript for his high school years, adding in all the college classes he took and also his one homeschool class—a PE credit I gave him for all of his running, lifting and working out almost daily, for the last three years. Easiest class I ever taught!
He took this lovely lady (a friend from his church) to prom on his 19th birthday!
His immediate plans are to work this summer—he seems to have a niche as a shoe salesman, working at two jobs this summer, having left his first job awhile back, but all three at shoe stores!—and then go to the School of Worship in the fall--the same nine-month program that Blondechick just graduated from. While there, he may be discerning a call into ministry as well. He had a great year helping with the Campus Life group at his high school; he's led a few kids to the Lord and prayed for scores after sharing his testimony at the Christian school he used to attend, and also at two Youth for Christ fundraising banquets. Teacher, pastor, church musician…he’ll probably end up being all of these things in church settings, but as for a career and where he’ll pursue further education, we will be praying for God’s direction during the coming school year.

Blondechick had a wonderful year at the School of Worship. She grew so much in her faith, her knowledge of Scripture, her awareness of God’s presence and voice, and in her musical abilities.  She was required to take keyboarding and music theory, and be on a worship team. She learned chords and chord structure so she could accompany her team on the keyboard, and that helped her learn songwriting as well. Now that the school has ended and she’s no longer on a regular worship team, she’s been finding joy in writing her own songs.

Blondechick performing her own song at the Songwriting Showcase

 She’s a little unsure as to what comes next for her. She doesn’t want to return to college—she has no career goal that requires a degree, she really didn’t enjoy taking classes, and the college environment was not a good one for her. She’s nannying three days a week this summer and working part-time at a law office too. She hopes to be able to afford a small apartment, and see what God has in store for her! She and B19 have been attending the church that is affiliated with the School of Worship, where there are many young people their age, and we are so thankful for the good friends, pastors and mentors they have there. God provides!

B14 had a successful year in the public school, finishing up with good grades and nice affirmation from his teachers. This past spring, he was selected to be part of an improv team that was preparing for a big competition which took place this past weekend. His team finished somewhere in the middle of the ten teams that competed, but it was a lot of fun for him.  Chicklet11 and I also enjoyed the day-long event. B14 was invited to be part of an All-Star Jazz Choir that is rehearsing and performing this summer, and this week he's at an overnight camp with our Christian theater group, which was a meaningful experience for hm last year. When he returns, he’ll start a summer PE class at the public school. We are thankful that B23 is able to help with all the driving for his activities!

 Chicklet and B9 got off easy this spring, since we were busy packing for our move. Our Classical Conversations group kept us on track through the end of April, and I was just thrilled with how much they learned this year through that program alone! After that, they had a minimum amount of reading and math to get done each morning, and we’ve been sticking to that, some days, even this summer. They have handled the move so well, and they love being at our friends' house. They've been been busy playing together happily and creatively, seeing friends, and being outside. This past week, they’ve been making movies and camping out in the backyard.

I leave you with a short video of them performing a groovy little number at the CC closing program. It was their favorite "history sentence" put to music, and Chicklet made up the choreography!

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