Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Makes our World Beautiful

Smoke from the fire pit streamed into the cool morning air as Marshall and I warmed our hands around the low fire. Along the river's edge, bright yellow and orange trees reflected in the glass-like surface below, spreading the brilliant autumn colors above and below the landscape.

"Marshall, look at the sun rays peeking through those trees. What do you think of when you see those leaves?"
"Oh, Auntie Tonya, I see God in those trees."
"Really? How so, sweetie?"
"Well, they're pretty because they are dying. As they die, they make the world more beautiful. When Jesus died for us, He made the world more beautiful. That's how I see God in those trees."

Those words from my seven-year-old nephew.

As I sit across the coffee table from my friend who feels "stuck" in destructive patterns; as I lay awake at night, grieving with our friends who buried their 18-year-old son this week; as I realize my own mistakes and struggles in my marriage, my parenting, my own "stuck" battles... Marshall's simple truth wins out.

Jesus came, Jesus died for me and you, and His death for us makes this world beautiful. It gives us meaning, purpose, and hope for what's ahead.

May we hang our hope on that truth, Christ's comfort, this Thanksgiving and Advent season.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron ~ A review

My dear friend Krista put this book in my hand as I headed out on a trip several weeks ago. She’d read The Butterfly and the Violin last summer and told me right away I needed to read it. She was taken with the story and the writing, and couldn’t believe it was a debut novel. I wholeheartedly agree. Author Kristy Cambron is something else.

A few thoughts ~
- Main character’s name - Sera James. Great place to start.
- The storyline shifts between a modern-day art dealer and a young Austrian violinist captured during WWII.
- Excellent writing. Christian themes are organic, not contrived.

One of my favorite things about The Butterfly and the Violin is that I was thoroughly entertained while learning about something very unfamiliar - the influence of WWII artists and musicians. Interesting to learn about the orchestra and artists in Auschwitz and other concentration camps during the war.

Cambron captures The Butterfly and Violin's theme best in her Author's Note at the end of the book:
As a student (of art history), I was captured by the innate need of humans to create. As a young Christian, I was inexplicably moved by the glimpses of light in the darkness. Even in the most evil of circumstances, the art of human expression was so powerful that it couldn't be overshadowed, not even by death. In the Butterfly and the Violin, I did my best to explore this theme. It's about worship through God's creation - our lives.
Bottom line ~ a fabulous read. Well written, thoughtful, informative, entertaining.

Mrs. Cambron ~ we absolutely loved your story, and we’re ready for more!

(She read my mind!)

Coming in April 2015...

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Christan Parenting Handbook by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN ~ Book review


Every spring my college girlfriends and I get away to some remote lake house or home to spend a few days together. Invariably, the conversation revolves around our kids and parenting. Last Spring, gathered around Cammi’s kitchen island, we were stumped with an issue regarding some of our young teens. My friend Aimee grabbed her copy of The Christian Parenting Handbook from her duffel and plopped it down on the island.
“It’s not the catchiest title,” she said, “but man, it’s good information.”
I love hearing stories about Aimee and Ben with their three girls. Their home bursts with truth, laughter and fun. So for her to recommend a parenting book, I was all over it.

What I love about The Christian Parenting Handbook:
- The subtitle: "50 Heart-based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life." 
This book is a marriage of heart training put into practical application - for every age.

- Easy to read. 50 chapters, 4-5 pages each.
It reads smoothly, but also operates like a reference book. I underlined and starred so much, I just keep on my nightstand. When I don’t know what to do in a situation, I scan through the chapter headings (or all that I previously underlined and summarized) for advice. Easy to look up chapters that address a particular situation.

- Practical. Each chapter offers a suggestion ("Envision a Positive Future," ch 7)  or solution to a problem ("Teach Kids to be Solvers instead of Whiners," ch 37), then outlines a brief Biblical framework of that suggestion or problem, and then gives  examples of practically working out the suggestions.

- For parents of all stages. No matter if your kids are two or twenty. “One of the many benefits of a heart-based approach to parenting is that you can start it at any age,” pg 204.  And really, this is more than a parenting book, it’s a relating book. Many of these strategies apply to all relationships - parents, spouses, friends, not just our kiddos.

- Encouraging. The overall tone of Turansky and Miller’s writing is a pat on the back to keep going. I felt validated, challenged, and encouraged throughout the chapters.

For example, "Good Character Qualities Misused (ch 49)." Oh my word. I have been so encouraged by this chapter:
“All children have good character qualities that when taken to the extreme, have a negative side...  As you look at your children’s weaknesses, look for a positive character quality they may be misusing.Then search for ways to balance it...”

The authors continue, “Identifying positive qualities misused will not only encourage you as a parent, but it will help you develop a strategy for training.”
And, “No character strength can be used as an excuse for a corresponding weakness. We must help our children grow and make improvements in areas that are a challenge, but if we tie those weaknesses to corresponding strengths, we may be able to bring about change more quickly.”

Another of the chapters that’s affected me the most is, "The Difference between Tasks, Problems, and Conflicts" (ch 16). It’s like a direct transfusion of wisdom to keep me from spiraling down into frustration or simply feeling sorry for myself.

Simply put (my summary):
Tasks - Normal things we do each day, things that have to be done (making breakfast, training children. Not problems, just things we must do).
Problems - Obstacles that get in the way of your goals (your son didn’t do his homework, daughter can’t find her other shoe).
Million-dollar question - Are you going to move problems down to tasks, or escalate them to conflict?
Important rule: Don’t turn problems into conflict. Instead look for ways to turn problems into additional tasks by developing a plan to solve them and keeping your emotions in check.

Last August, on the night before the first day of school, I made giant attempts to have my kids fed, clean, clothes and backpacks set out, and ready for bed at an early bedtime.  At 8:30 pm, as I was shooing the girls upstairs and winding things down, the boys decided they must go with Corbin to WalMart (!) for a couple of very specific school supplies that had escaped my careful, extensive shopping (seriously - WalMart - the night before school starts?!). I presented my arguments as to why it was not a good idea, why the boys needed to settle their minds for rest instead of shopping the narrow, crowded, messy aisles of the superstore. I was trumped by all three men who stood taller than me, and who felt far less concerned with getting a reasonable amount of sleep. Corbin shushed my concerns as if I were an overbearing mother. Me?!
Off they went.
So an hour and a half later, when I got the call that their car battery was dead, and could I come jump the car and pick them up... at that moment, I decidedly put this “problem” into tasks rather than into conflict. Especially when I pulled up to WalMart to see Corbin bent over the hood of his car, while Bran and Hud walked across the parking lot from Wendy’s slurping down giant chocolate shakes.

Moving to task rather than conflict. Was it easy? No. Was it second nature? Absolutely not. But did we get home without further incident or injury or a super angry momma? Yes yes yes.
The lack of sleep that night made much less of an impact than the potential of my escalated anger and frustration. If the boys felt tired Monday morning, it wasn’t my problem. They’d have to work that out. And they did.
To this day, no one (other than me) remembers the night-before-school incident that could have been scarring for three Wilson males - and fortunately, I’m not nursing regrets. 

Some other of my favorite chapters: (note - everything in italics = my thoughts)

ch. 2 - Build Internal Motivation (!!!!!)
ch. 9 - Make Parenting Shifts  - Parenting well feels like a moving target. Good parents are always learning and growing. As our children move into a new developmental stage, we must make a parenting shift as well.
ch. 15 - Teach Kids to Add Energy to Family Life - Teaching kids to honor their family - to honor means to treat people as special, do more than what’s expected, to have a good attitude.
ch. 19 - Affirm Approximately Right Behavior. Whaat? We have the freedom to do that?? Our kids don’t have to always act completely right? Whew!
ch. 38 - Children Need to Learn How to Work Hard. But what if we don’t live on a farm, and my kids are in school 8 hours a day, even longer with sports? Do they still need to learn how to work hard? YES. But tell me how...
ch. 41 - Use Creativity to Teach Your Children Spiritual Truths
ch. 46 - Privilege and Responsibility Go Together
ch. 47 - Firmness Doesn’t Require Harshness
ch. 50 - The value of Grandparents. Amen. And notice it’s not titled the value of perfect grandparents.

The authors conclude the book by reminding us, “It’s never too late to influence your children. Keep praying, and enjoy the hope God gives to us all. He’s in the business of changing people.”

Amen. And Amen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Practicing Gratitude 10.28.14

- Total GIFT of having Shawn and Heidi in our home for a few days. What bright lights for God's kingdom. They've been serving with CRU for 12 years now in San Diego, and getting some time with them was a complete joy for our family. In their short time with us, both were so intentional with getting to know our kiddos. Sign of a great couple when our kids were hungry for more time with them. Faulkners - next time you must bring your precious kiddos!
Shawn and our friend Zoli - great excuse for a party! Next time I've got to get some pics of Heidi...
- Young Life banquet. A privilege to be a part. 
Look forward to this set-up day every year (thanks, Mom, for taking girls to the dentist so I could be here)
Dayna ~ one of my fav people. Hard working, grateful, genuine. Lives life big.
Debby, Melissa, Melodie - and what fun YIKES mugs!
Yvette and Julie. Thank goodness these two are efficient.
Julie, me, Beth, Yvette, Jenna, Melodie. This is work, right?
Jenna's creativity
And - what a TREAT to have Bob with us. My third time to hear him this year ~ challenged and inspired each time.
Love this gal. Coffee and Wednesdays and Victoria!
Katie - love love.
We scored getting to keep "Marty and Pops" here after banquet
- Such a gift to get our friends across the street!

- The view from our front yard.
Hud and his buddies - such a great group of boys.
Because they don't get enough football from 6-9am
Basden and our next-door neighbor - sweet girls!
- Again, how much Basden enjoys volleyball. Great coach, great girls.

- Five days in Vegas (thanks for keeping kiddos, Daboo!). Celebrating Corbin's birthday while there - Oct 27th is one of the best days in history.
Happy happy birthday to my husband!
Happy birthday breakfast
We loved, loved staying at the Wynn. Other than shows, I was more than content staying right at the hotel.
- Andersons keeping girls for us while out of town. Made the transition of us leaving much smoother. 

- Tanglewood Carnival.
Didn't realize until we arrived that it's Basden's last. Goodness, beginning the grieving process of her being a 5th grader.

Essie and her posse
- More of Esther's soccer Saturdays.

- Liv's Light the Night. Touched by so much community support.
Love these two.
Cuties!! Makes me happy.
- Missing Hud's football game, but thankful for pics!
Such a great group - thankful!!
- PHS freshman's loss to Arlington Martin last week. Thankful in all things. It was a stunningly emotionally draining game. I was so stinking proud of our boys. Half the team walked to the bus afterwards in tears, completely spent from the game's intensity. Their first loss in two years. Couldn't have been prouder.
Bran - Defensive end, #27
Grey- #7, outstanding game as QB
My texts to a friend during the game

As our players gathered afterwards for the coaches' huddle, parents and friends gathered around the team in support.
- Essie and the way she imitates. Bran wrote this awhile ago and I saved it and posted it on my desk. Esther's pink note appeared days later.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles...   1 Chronicles 16:11-12

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Practicing Gratitude 10.21.14

- A few days in Austin with Corbin - thanks to amazing grandparents keeping kids - what a gift to not worry a bit, knowing they're having more fun than if we were there.

- Time with heart friends in Austin: visting with Carlos and Kelly in their home; Kirsten, Brandon and their kiddos for lunch; Kristin Cowden and her kiddos in their home, and several hours with Shaun and Christina for dinner last night. Your timing, the way you orchestrate the events, just precious. Thank you.
Time with Kirsten - and ALL the Dickersons!
Photo creds to Christina - lovely dinner!
- Shaun's encouragement. One of the kindest men we know. So grateful for their friendship ~ a gift not just of like-mindedness and encouragement, but they're just plain fun. A gift to laugh so hard with another couple.

- Getting to see Raven and Lily storefront in Austin and meeting Kirsten's staff - I could have taken one of everything.

- A few hours alone in a corner of the hotel lobby.

- Getting home to Hud's football game, a gift to have all the grandparents there

- A (big) "no." Choosing to see it not as rejection, but as protection.

- That we can trust you, Lord, with disappointments - You see the road ahead, and we can keep our eyes on You for direction.

- Dress-up day at McLean
Nice legs, Hud.
- This crazy gal. I'm enjoying the pups more as they're getting older. Whew - that first year was insanity.

- Essie (and friends) constantly playing school. Find these all over the house.
My fav - the "good day" column v. the "horable" column
- Papa interrogated by PHS police (Asst Principal, anyway) when trying to get Bran for an early dismissal. Bran's hilarious text to me describing the scene - and Jack Sparrow (!) Thank goodness for Papa's sense of humor.

- Papa attempting to take the boys to fish on lake Grapevine when they were off of school Monday. Winds were too strong - bummer. But Papa's willingness to cancel an appt and take the boys is huge. Rain check.

- Bran's first Paschal homecoming
Headed to the varsity game
- Homecoming - "1st date"

Pics and dinner downtown (thx for organizing us, Tami!)
What a great group of girls

Parent paparazzi

Proud Mammas

- An unexpected sussy for Essie that Sarah dropped by - a darling, sparkly dress for no reason at all except to be twinsies with Avie. So thoughtful and made Esther's (and my) night.

 - That our (huge) elementary school feels small because of our amazing, staff, families and teachers.

- Swimming in October

- This coaster in our Austin hotel - yes and yes.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles...   1 Chronicles 16:11-12