December 26, 2013

Christmas Activities--2013

We got this idea from Lisa Whelchel's book The ADVENTure of Christmas, and it was our first year to do it...and it won't be the last! This simple thing was a huge treat for the kids, a fun way for them to greet each new day. We laid out a long strip of plastic wrap on the table. The kids picked out 25 candy kisses (I got several different holiday bags) and laid them in a row. We folded over the plastic wrap and tied curling ribbon between each kiss, then taped the chains to the doorway to the kitchen. Each morning the kids got to cut off a candy kiss!

Lucan and Zaden got chains, too, but we made them after the boys were in bed.

We attended the tree lighting ceremony at the NATO base, where we enjoyed lovely weather unlike last year when everything was moved inside due to rain. We heard the Navy band and then visited inside with some friends, which helped offset the disappointment at the fact that we missed out on the Italian hot cocoa, which was all gone by the time Ted got to the front of the line! Boo!

I was a bit stressed about this event, but thankfully a dear mom friend told me to just show up--not to bring any food or worry about craft supplies, just show up with the kids, sit in the corner and feed the baby, and let them take care of everything. So I did! Ted left that morning for a 5-day trip to Germany, and we had had a very full weekend right before he went, so I wasn't even sure I felt like dragging everyone to Support Site for an event. But it all ended up being just fine. I didn't even attempt to finish any schoolwork in the afternoon once we got home! And the kids enjoyed the time with their friends, and I enjoyed the time to visit with my friends, too!

One of the evenings Ted was gone to Germany we went to SS for a potluck dinner and Christmas program. Arden and Charis had speaking roles in a short drama, and Lucan played a sheep while Kenna sang in the angel choir.

Arden is on the far left, Charis on the far right, with Lucan directly in front of her.

I don't do roll-out cookies every year, but this year we did. Because we didn't go crazy with the baking this year, it was not as stressful as it could have been. :-) We did the roll-out and baking part one day, then frosted and decorated another day. We let the kids have their own plates of cookies to decorate and--theoretically--eat. But, ahem, we discovered Zaden on MULTIPLE occasions helping himself to other people's cookies. Sigh. We need to get smarter about this next year...

The city of Salerno is known for its light displays. We went last year with the K family and this year with the B family--so thankful for good friends to make memories with! Rhonda flew in from Colorado on the 19th, and we waited until she got here because Ted noted that she really enjoys lights at Christmas. We were blessed with fabulous weather and a lovely time together in this town along the Amalfi Coast.

Ted played guitar with the praise team, and Charis and Kenna participated in a worship dance presentation that was just lovely. Rhonda and I sat in the balcony with the boys and enjoyed singing carols and watching the loved ones who were part of the program. Seanin made it almost all the way through the service, but he and I ended up in the nursery, where he got a fresh diaper and dinner!

Christmas Season 2013: Traditions & Priorities

The whole family in Salerno to see the famous Christmas lights.
Every year I try my best to plan ahead and make sure we have time to enjoy and appreciate the various activities and celebrations of the Christmas season. And every year Christmas seems to come sooner than I'm ready for it, leaving me vowing to do even better the next year. But this year I'm giving myself a special gift: permission to enjoy what we DID do rather than be regretful about what we did NOT do. Permission to remember the positive experiences with fondness and joy and shrug off the negative with good humor and grace.

Did we get to everything on my Christmas to-do list? No.

Did we remember our Savior and actively seek to honor Him this month? Yes. Did we do that perfectly? Definitely not even close, but I have to believe He smiled at our attempts!

Since I haven't blogged about our personal activities this month, I'm going to capsulize the highlights with a few pictures (more are on Facebook), probably in a separate post. But one thing I wanted to note because it's a great step for me as a wife and mom is that I found myself making conscious decisions about more of my activities this season. I attribute this mostly to the study I had the privilege of leading this fall, A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George. We spent quite a bit of our discussion time considering priorities and choices, and I felt so blessed when I realized I was making seasonal decisions based on what God has been teaching me through the book, Scriptures, and class discussions. What a blessing to have a group of women who sharpen and encourage one another!

So even though we can't usually boil things in life down to a single either/or, it really helped me to frame choices in this manner to myself. EITHER I can do this, OR I can do that, but not both. Which one do I choose? Which activity helps me keep my priorities in order?

Some examples of how this worked out practically for me:

  • Instead of getting up early to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast (as I had been hoping to do), I got up early and spent extra time cuddling in bed with my hubby. (We had enough sweets in our stockings!)
  • Instead of stressing out about making everything from scratch (which I truly do prefer), I took some shortcuts, like canned frosting for the Christmas cookies and a box mix for Jesus's birthday cake. Not as healthy, but the kids didn't care, and it makes it easier for me to resist eating the goodies myself, ha! 
  • For Christmas dinner, I ended up not even making ANY potatoes! I had tried to decide on one of 3 different recipes, none of which were make-ahead options. By the time Christmas Eve drew to a close, I had prepped homemade mac-and-cheese and a yummy green bean casserole, plus 2 dozen yeast rolls. Rhonda made the pistachio salad, and Ted was prepared to oversee the cooking of the ham. So I decided...we don't NEED potatoes! And you know what?! Christmas dinner was quite filling and we still have leftovers! It was nice to not do any cooking Christmas Day and have the prep work on Christmas Eve not be as taxing, either. 
  • As above...I ended up not making any Christmas pies, either. Not my choice...I would much rather have homemade apple or pecan pie than a box-mix birthday cake for Jesus, but we REALLY need that many desserts on a day when the kids are already pumped with candy and cookies?!
  • We said no to excessive gift-giving. There were some items we had in mind for the kids and ended up not pursuing. A good percentage of the kids' gifts were thrift store items (hooray for Hardy Boys and Warriors books and super-hero costumes!), and the older kids made gifts for each other while the younger ones used AWANA bucks to purchase gifts for others. The verdict? Tobin summed it up beautifully: "This was the best Christmas EVER!" I don't think they minded not having big bucks spent on them!
  • We said no to perfectly wonderful activities when they fell during busy times. Sure, the Air Force Christmas party was a blast last year and we would have loved to have attended again. And the dinner for local orphans was certainly a worthy cause and would have been a blessing to be part of personally (we DID provide food to be served for it, just didn't go ourselves). But we had to save our sanity and made tough choices as a couple and as a family, and our season was the richer for it. 
Some things we did do, if imperfectly:
  • As we do every year, we pulled out our Advent book and Advent calendar, tools that allow us to remind the kids of the different parts of the Christmas story and remind all of ourselves that the reason we do any of this stuff is because of Jesus. We may not have gotten to them every single day...but we read the pages and did the activities often enough that the younger ones got the gist!
  • We did do some favorite holiday baking, but only two kinds of Christmas cookies.  Good heavens, I'm realizing we didn't even do fudge or peanut butter balls! But how freeing to realize that NO ONE HAS REVOLTED because of the lack, ha!
  • We chose a few seasonal activities and enjoyed them thoroughly (parties, outings, etc.).
  • We did even begin a new tradition--a candy kiss countdown to Christmas! It was a very simple thing that the kids absolutely loved, so I guess we need to plan on doing it again next year!
Next I'll post on our activities with pics...not sure when that will happen, since all of Italy appears to be online now and everything is running slow! But at least I have a note to myself that the world will not come to an end if we don't do everything in December that we think we need to do. We had a wonderful, blessed Christmas, and part of the blessing for me came in consciously relaxing when things weren't going as perfectly as planned!

December 20, 2013

Yet Another Take on the Phil Kerfuffle

Just me...trying to sort out my own thoughts...wanting to see everything by the light of Scripture. Writing--rambling--can help me process things better. If this is helpful to anyone else, praise God! If not, carry on. :-)


Like millions of Americans, my family and I have been captivated by the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty. We laugh and learn together as we watch their silly antics and get a peek into their lifestyle, one we might enjoy ourselves if given the opportunity. (Who wouldn't want to eat the way those folks do?!)

So it has been with a great deal of interest that I have scanned my Facebook feed, clicking on various articles, reading a variety of opinions and comments, and attempting to figure out an appropriate, God-honoring response to all the uproar. The first article I read was this bit by Matt Walsh, who is like Phil in that he doesn't mince words or worry about whom he may offend. Then I read this one by a blogger I've only scanned a couple of times on adoption topics, followed by the Robertsons' official statement about the issue. Then I decided to read the original article that started the whole kerfuffle, with salty language that is possibly at least as offensive as Phil's actual comments. Next up was this excellent treatise by Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. To round out my reading, I decided to read a link with the intriguing title "The Sin of Being Offended."

All of this has served to illustrate, at least a little, the truth of Proverbs 18:17...
"The first to present his case seems right, 'til another comes forward and questions him."

I saw at least two people on Facebook who initially expressed frustration with the idea of Phil being censored/rebuked for his viewpoints only to backpedal a little bit because they didn't want to portray the idea that Christians aren't loving toward homosexuals. Fair enough. We are Christ's ambassadors, absolutely, and I agree that we must love all people.

But wait a minute. Didn't Phil himself say that?! From the original article:
“You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

That doesn't sound judgmental or hateful to me. It sounds pretty...Phil. Direct. Folksy. Old school. Anyone who watches the show with any regularity can easily hear Phil voicing these words. And, truth be told, it's easy to hear him saying the specific words that caused the uproar. He's just kind of plain spoken that way.

Am I excusing what he said regarding specific body parts?  I think Dr. Mohler put it best: "Phil Robertson would have served the cause of Christ more faithfully if some of those comments had not rushed out. This is not because what he said was wrong; he was making the argument that homosexual acts are against nature. The Apostle Paul makes the very same argument in Romans 1:26. The problem is the graphic nature of Robertson’s language and the context of his statements." 

Given the fact that Phil Robertson is a public figure, I think it's fair to hold him publicly accountable for what he says. At the same time, I think it's also fair to raise the point that there is a definite double standard in this country when it comes to speaking one's mind on issues like this.

Still, I'm not here to discuss freedom of speech or religion, the state of our country, etc. I have plenty of opinions about those things, to be sure; but first and foremost I am a citizen of God's kingdom, and I'm more concerned about what I can do to be an ambassador for Christ Jesus. As an American, I'm saddened by the treatment of those who identify sin as sin. As a follower of Jesus, however, I'm completely unsurprised by it.  Jesus Himself said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18).

One issue that has captured my thoughts more than anything is this statement on one of the blog posts linked to above:  "But Phil depicts gay people as deviant, and that’s a big problem. And if his words above represent 'Christian values' then we need to have another look at Jesus."

On the surface, this sounds like a nice thing for me as a Christian to agree with and share. As this blogger said, as Christians, our greatest charge is to LOVE. But love and truth go hand in hand. The message of the gospel is a message of love, yes, but also a message that contains the truth of our sinfulness.

What bothers me is the fact that speaking the truth in love these days is hardly ever acknowledged as such. People will focus on the truth you are trying to speak--in this case, Phil's assertion that homosexuality is against God's design for sex--and ignore or twist the fact that it was spoken in love.

What? Love?? How can telling someone his or her lifestyle is wrong be a loving thing to do?!

That's a question the world would ask, not understanding that this is absolutely the way to love those who are sinners (in other words, everyone!).

Christians, I'm afraid we're going to "love" our neighbors to hell. Here's what I mean: we're so consumed with the idea of not offending anyone, of not identifying with the wackos out there who discredit the cause of Christ, that we go overboard the other way. By trying to prove our love for everyone, we stop talking about what is truly offensive: a holy God crucified on a cross for unholy people. Deviant people. And that's ALL of us: gays, straights, adulterers, happily married people, divorced people. Liars. Thieves. Addicts. Gluttons. Gossips. Slanderers. Murderers. Cheaters. Even..."good" people.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves, nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine). The writer of this epistle, the apostle Paul, is speaking to a primarily Christian audience. What separates them from the wicked who will not inherit God's kingdom? Changed behavior? No. Accepting Jesus Christ as their Sovereign Savior.

"They [those without Christ] are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:18-24, emphasis mine).

The above passages are pretty clear about what God says about "deviant" people and behavior--we are separated from Him, utterly dependent upon His grace for salvation. Without the mind of Christ, we are darkened in our understanding. We rant, we rave, we get offended at the notion that we are sinners, that our lifestyle choices (not just our sexual ones) are OUR business and don't affect anyone else. God's Word says, "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight" (1 Corinthians 3:19) and "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

The fact is, the world cannot understand Phil Robertson. They don't understand his family. They don't understand anyone who follows Jesus and stands firm on His Word, accepting HIS authority, living according to HIS ways. "The man [or woman] without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).

So for the blogger and others who, in condemning Phil Robertson, say they think we need to have another look at Jesus, I'd like to know exactly what that means to them. The Jesus I love and serve is Love. He is also Truth.

He is holy.
He is pure.
He is righteous.
He is perfect.

Yes, He is forgiving. Merciful. Gracious. But as sovereign, almighty God, He bestows those gifts on us on HIS terms. He is our Creator, the ONLY way to eternal salvation; therefore, we must listen and obey HIS ways.

The Jesus I read about in the gospels brandished a whip and overturned table in his anger at the sin He found in the hearts of those doing business in the temple. He loved on those whom society labeled "sinners" (when the accusers conveniently overlooked the fact that they were also such) and yet told them to go and "sin no more," meaning to leave the sinful lifestyle they were caught in/known for. He preached for people to repent, for the kingdom of God was at hand, indicating that a lifestyle change was expected, even demanded, from those who wanted in. He sent out disciples and warned them of persecution to come, saying people would hate them because of Him. Contrary to the picture we sometimes have of a calm, quiet, passive Jesus, He told them he "did not come to bring peace, but a sword" and to turn "a man against his father, a daughter against her mother" (Matthew 10:34-36).

Yes, some of Phil's words were crude and arguably inexcusable. But his "sin" in the eyes of society--his failure to understand and celebrate the appeal of a homosexual lifestyle-doesn't negate the fact that he spoke truth AND love. If more believers had the courage to do the same, maybe it wouldn't be so radical for the world to hear it.

December 12, 2013

Life with 7

Occasionally these days I'm asked how life is with seven children. Here are some ramblings that address the question, if not answer it...I'm not sure I have an answer!

So. I thought life spun out of control after I had our third child in three years.


Pardon me while I wipe away a tear from laughing so hard. If only I had known what life would be like 10 years later! Actually, it's probably best I didn't know...although I'm so thankful that none of this caught God by surprise.

(Seriously...when did 3, 4, or 5 kids become "only" 3, 4, or 5 kids?!)

I'd like to think that I've grown and matured at least a little during our parenting journey. And one thing I've learned is not to wait around for the next stage of other words, telling myself it will be better/easier/more delightful after X, Y, or Z happens (potty training, sleeping through the night, independent walking, whatever). My current mantra often has me wandering the house in a daze, muttering under my breath that I can sleep when I'm dead, or at least when the kids go to college.

But the truth is, I don't have time to wait around until we have an empty nest! I'm desperately trying to squeeze the life out of the fleeting moments we have every day. With perspective that comes only after the 7th child is born, I find myself constantly reminding the Type A part of my increasingly schizo personality that someday, SOMEDAY, I will look back on these days and remember when my babies were young and wish that I could cuddle them as wee ones again.

Oh, I've heard that sentiment since I was pregnant with our first child. And I would nod and try to assume a manner of wisdom by association rather than experience, knowing it was true in my head but not yet in my heart. And then Charis arrived, and suddenly I blinked and she celebrated her 13th birthday.

Wait. Did that just happen?!

Why, yes. Yes, it did. On October 18, 2013, my baby girl turned 13. And I see her gangling arms and legs as her body is growing, listen to her mature wisdom as she counsels younger siblings, hug her close and kiss the top of her head, no longer stooping over to do so. Knowing she is watching me closely, I strive harder to display a patient, gentle spirit that certainly didn't appear very often in my early days of motherhood. (Prayerfully, she will not remember the days when Mommy turned--and still sometimes turns--into a raging, hormonal maniac!) I hope Charis sees me leaning on the Lord for strength and peace in the midst of seeming chaos. I hope she sees me smiling more than frowning, encouraging more than lecturing.

As a more seasoned mom, it's slightly (EVER so slightly) easier to close my eyes, take a big breath, and then smile...when the 2-year-old is drawing with marker on the wall...when the 11-year-old is telling the same old jokes instead of clearing the table...when the baby has awakened halfway through his nap (yet again interrupting our homeschool)...when the independent 6-year-old is "helping" in the kitchen...when the 2-year-old is still screaming and shaking with rage because Mom took the marker away...when the 4-year-old is melting down because his Lego creation is now in pieces in the hands of his little brother...

Many days, it is true, all of this happens and I am utterly, completely overwhelmed.  Many days I'm physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Spent. Done. Even when I'm plagued with feelings of doubt and guilt, though, it's JUST a bit easier than it was in the earlier days of parenting to remind myself there is meaning and purpose in all of my activities, even ones that involve slogging through piles of laundry and dirty diapers.

It's JUST a bit easier to tell myself...

In the scheme of eternity, this doesn't matter.
A messy house.
A ruined dinner.
Piles of laundry.
Sleepless nights.
Spit up.
Stretch marks.
Sticky floors.
Toddler tantrums.
Missed workouts.

In the scheme of eternity, this matters!
Unconditional love.
Time in God's Word.
Acceptance (of self and those around me.)
Time with loved ones.

These days, I feel the pull more than ever, the struggle between what IS and what I want it to be. But I'm still learning. I'm trying to take the advice other moms told me 13 years ago when I carried my baby girl. "Enjoy these days! They go by so fast."

It's cliche, perhaps, but it's true: The days are long but the years are short. Oh, so short. I had a sobering conversation recently with my older three children centered around the fact that they have fewer years left under our roof as minors than they have already spent with us.  Eeeep! Oh, let my little--and big--children come to me! Let me bless them and remind them that the kingdom of God is made of such as themselves! Let them come and ask--demand, even--the gift of my presence. And let me be fully there with them in that moment.

Yes, baby Seanin, I'll snuggle your sweet self a little longer when you wake me up at night for an unexpected feeding.

Yes, sweet Zaden, I'll read you that story one more time, even though we just read it 5 minutes ago. And 10 minutes before that. And half an hour before that.

Yes, little Lucan, I'll hold you like a baby and chant our little saying, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always..."

Yes, dear Kenna, I'll let you help me make the muffins, even though you slow me down and clouds of flour will puff all over the counter and floor.

Yes, Arden, I will clear the table and play a game of Dutch Blitz with you, even though part of me was hoping for a few minutes to read.

Yes, Tobin, I'll listen to your saga of the latest computer game conquest. I may not have a clue what is happening in that world, but I'll listen.

Yes, Charis, we can snuggle under the blankets and read "our" book together and talk about girl stuff. Life. Love.

And yes, dear husband Ted, I will ALWAYS make time for you. If being a mom is a hard job, so is being the dad who works hard to allow Mom to stay home with the kids. And you, dear daddy of our 7, make it such a joy and honor to be these kids' mommy. You never complain when dinner is late or consists of leftovers. You don't mind stepping over shoes and toys (although you are so good about making sure the children clean up after themselves!) and don't blame me when the laundry has piled up so high you must launch rescue efforts to help us dig our way to the bottom. You teach the kids to appreciate what we give them and to honor me as their mother. (You'll be pleased to know Lucan presented me with a Lego flower he made yesterday morning!) You encourage me when I'm struggling and shower me with sincere words of appreciation. You act as though my stretch marks are in fact beauty marks, and you delight in who I am, not what I sometimes wish I could look like. You, my lover, are a gift.

Our life with 7 kids? Chaotic. Noisy. Messy. And yes, overwhelming. Seanin has been with us 4 months and we are STILL adjusting. I think we will always be "adjusting," no matter what phase of life we are in. But I hope, I pray, that we are learning that the adjustment process IS life. We don't, CAN'T, put life on hold until we "feel organized." Feelings and circumstances change. I must set my mind on things above, realizing that so much of what makes up this life is temporary, yet understanding that God uses the temporal to shape us for eternity.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

December 03, 2013

30 Days of Thanks 2013


November 1
I am thankful for the power of prayer.

November 2
I am thankful for the WORD of God, Jesus in the flesh as well as written pages of Scripture.

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

November 3
I am grateful that God's mercies are new every morning.

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lam. 3:22-23

November 4
I am grateful for the gift of joy! It comes in thousands of ways, big and small, and I long to more fully embrace this gift by embracing the many forms in which it arrives.

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." Psalm 126:3

November 5
On the 4th I was thankful for God's JOY, so this day I am thankful for His STRENGTH.

"The joy of the Lord is your strength." Neh. 8:10b
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9

November 6
I am thankful for God's WISDOM and SOVEREIGNTY.

Personal Example 1: God removed my family from our familiar home in Texas and moved us to Wisconsin, which had many various results--the most important one for me was that because of this move (among other particular circumstances), I met my amazing husband Ted Jacobson!

Personal Example 2: Left to our own devices, Ted and I would have had 2, maybe 3 kids. Bwahahahaha!! Thank you, Father, for your sovereignty that has graciously overcome our human plans and replaced them with your perfect plans.

Isaiah 55:8-9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

November 7
Now that we've shared the news with the grandparents, I can say here that I am thankful for THIS!

(Tobin's own words):
"On Saturday I had a talk with Mom. Arden was at Laser tag for Noah Mack’s birthday party. I confessed that I felt like there was something inside of me making me do bad things and making me a bully. We read some Bible verses, talked for a little bit, and prayed. Then I accepted Jesus into my heart, and immediately I could feel that the thing that was inside was gone. I also felt a lot happier. That night, I told Dad about my choice. He was very happy also. The next day we told Chaplain Keith. He was so excited!"

November 8
I am thankful for unconditional love. My parents showed me this from the time I was a baby; they prepared me to know and understand God's unconditional love for me. I am also blessed to be loved like this by my wonderful hubby, and together we strive to pass it on to our children. May we love those around us unconditionally as well, for who knows but the Lord what burdens they may carry?

"We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19

November 9
This year I've been posting some of the more abstract things I'm thankful for, but today I'll take a different tack and say I am so grateful for the opportunity to live in Italy. Naples has its share of problems--just ask anyone on the Living Abroad in Naples FB page, LOL. But we choose to love wherever God puts us, praying that we can make it just a little bit better before we leave! So grateful for the chance we have to experience a different culture, to travel, to learn and get outside of our little American box.

And at this moment, I'm thankful for the sounds of our kids and Italian neighbor kids playing together in the garden.

November 10
I'm thankful for sleep, more so when I don't get enough of it.

Dear God, PLEASE let Seanin sleep better tonight! Amen.

Poor snarfling baby.  He went 8 hours Thursday night only to get a cold or something Friday. It's been pretty miserable around here ever since...

November 11
I am thankful for the liberties we enjoy as Americans, but even more, I am thankful that we can be free from sin because of what Jesus did for us. THAT is a freedom that will NEVER be taken away...but it is also one with a great responsibility.

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." Galatians 5:13

November 12
I'm thankful for the wonderful friends I've met through PWOC during our time in Naples! There's nothing better than finding like-minded sisters to journey along with.

"9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

November 13
I am thankful for what I too often take for granted...a full pantry, fridge, and freezer. I can pull out what I need to make meals for my family each day. And that's meals, plural, plus snacks and often dessert. Too many people around the world don't have this luxury.

"The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing."
Psalm 145:14-16

November 14
I am thankful for our overall health. Some coughs and sniffles notwithstanding, we are pretty hearty individuals!

"I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done." Psalm 118:17

November 15
I am so thankful for mornings...hang with me here! I'm not naturally a morning person, but I've learned to appreciate the quiet early hours. For one thing, it's the one time of day I can enjoy a cup of hot coffee and quiet time with my husband. For another, I am guaranteed, thanks to the grace of our Lord, a fresh start to a new day. It doesn't matter if yesterday I blew my resolution to refrain from's all right if I went to bed cranky...and the spilled milk, overflowing trash, bickering siblings, unfinished school lessons, and so on? Well, they just don't seem quite as overwhelming in the light of a new day. Thank you, Jesus.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14

November 16
I am thankful for my sweet baby Seanin, with a dimpled smile and gurgling noises that make me giggle no matter how badly my day is going. I love my chunky monkey!

November 17
I am thankful for my silly ham of a two-year-old Zaden, with his big eyes and entertaining expressions, both facial and verbal. Though he is a one-child wrecking crew, I love him!

November 18
I am thankful for my lovable, happy-go-lucky Lucan, who lives in a world of imagination and adventure and tries to pull me in with him when I'm tied to the mundane. "Mommy, I love you 100 times!" Love this kid!

November 19
I am thankful for my independent, imaginative Kenna, who doesn't know the meaning of "can't" (nor how to ask permission ahead of time, seemingly, lol). I love this loyal, affectionate, all-out little girl!

November 20
I am thankful for my sweet and silly Arden, whose energy and easygoing personality entertains and inspires family and friends alike. I love this tender, huggable, non-stop growing boy!

November 21
I am thankful for my (rather mischievous) jokester Tobin, whose love for words and knowledge helps him spin fantastic puns and single-handedly keeps the library in business. I love this silly, huggable, non-stop learning boy!

November 22
I am thankful for my creative, tenderhearted Charis, whose broad range of talents and interests gives her unique opportunities for enriching the lives of all those around her. I love this helpful, generous, loving girl!

November 23
I'm grateful for our home. Despite power outages and sewer issues, among other minor inconveniences, we DO have power most of the time; we have plumbing; we have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. We have plenty of space to do life. What a blessing.

November 24
I'm thankful my husband has a job to support his family, and I'm thankful I can be a stay-at-home mom. Really, I am grateful.

But next year when the NATO exercise rolls around? I'd like to be alone on an island somewhere. Please?

November 25
I posted a few pics of our homeschool Thanksgiving celebration on Monday but neglected to actually write this out: I am extremely thankful God has blessed us with such a wonderful, supportive community of homeschooling friends here in Naples. Through this group our kids have formed their closest friendships, and I as a mom have a lifeline of encouragement, support, and ever-flowing blessings from the other women we meet up with regularly.

November 26
I am so grateful for my dear parents John and Irene Keist and for the way they raised my brother John Keist IV and me. We are blessed with a godly heritage.

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 3:14-15

November 27
I am so very, very grateful for my husband Ted and the marriage God has blessed us with. He excels at so much and deserves many accolades for the amazing job he does in his career—but because of the nature of his work, he gets to make his bosses shine in the limelight instead of having the spotlight on himself. This is a reflection of who he is all the time, not just at his job. As a husband and daddy, he quietly does things that are hardly glamorous—folding mountains of laundry, changing diapers, fixing the random weird things that go wrong in our house, and much, much more. After 16.5 years of marriage, he knows me better than anyone else on earth and somehow still loves me! He is my rock who builds his life on The Rock; he is the best friend and lover I could have ever dreamed of; he knows how to make me laugh and gently dries my tears when I cry. He encourages and blesses me every day, and I am so thankful God brought us together.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25

November 28
I am thankful for family traditions and memories! The past 2 Thanksgivings we have broken with tradition to create some different memories—we have traveled to another place in Italy and eaten Italian food! Last year it was Capri; this year it was a tiny mountain town, Atri, along the Adriatic coastline. We stayed in a 3-bedroom apartment (freezing cold the first night but finally warm by our last day there) and enjoyed having NO agenda other than spending time together.

November 29
I am thankful for the beauty of God’s creation: sunshine, snow on mountains, frost-covered branches, and the misty sea, a few of the sights we enjoyed in Atri.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

November 30
I am thankful that the season of THANKSGIVING comes first—it is a perfect lead-in to the season of GIVING as we remember our Savior’s birth!

November 21, 2013


Me, after nearly rear-ending some idiot who stopped to talk on his cell phone IN THE EXIT LANE: Whew, my heart is racing!

Lucan: My heart is racing, too, Mommy! It's going to win!


Lucan has always been very affectionate, earning the name "Lovable Lucan."  Lately his thing has been telling me, "Mommy, I love you 100!" or "Mommy, I love you 100 times!"  Not sure where he got that quantifier, but it melts my heart every time I hear it!


A current obsession has been playing Peter Pan and Captain Hook.  Of course, Lucan is always Peter Pan, even though he also loves to dress up like a pirate (complete with the crocheted eye patch that Charis made for him).  The obsession carries over into his building and drawing--he builds Captain Hook's ship out of legos, math blocks, trio blocks, pretty much any kind of building material.  And of course he draws and paints Captain Hook's ship as well, and his play-acting includes all of these elements.  He proudly announced to me one day, "Mommy, Captain Hook's pirates are getting dead!"

November 09, 2013

Tidbits from Mom & Dad's Visit

I finished chronicling our trip to Rome but didn't really finish telling about the rest of my mom and dad's visit from the States! They were here for a total of 3 weeks, and it was such a blessed time. The week after we returned from Rome, Ted had leave time he was able to use (the previous week was a busy work week for him, preparing briefings for the higher-ups and so on), so he took Dad downtown to the archaeological museum, one of the famous cathedrals, Herculaneum, and other places requiring a lot of walking that didn't really interest Mom.

Grandma was most interested in getting to love on her grandkids! She and Kenna made play dough one day, and she spent much time on the couch or in the rocking chair reading with the little guys.

I enjoyed being able to just "do life" here with all of us together. We did a very little bit of school the week Ted had to work, but the rest of the time we just enjoyed time as a family.  Lots of reading and game time, sewing projects for Charis and Mom, naps on the couch, movies, etc. And we got to go to a couple of Tobin and Arden's soccer games, too.

We celebrated Charis and Arden's birthday as a family, promising the kids they could have a special day with friends over after Grandma and Grandpa went home.

Every morning Lucan would come down the stairs and say brightly, "I'm so glad Grandma and Grandpa are here!" (The first day after they had left to return to the States, when I thought for sure he would be down in the dumps about them being gone, he marched down and said happily, "I'm so glad Grandma and Grandpa got to be here!")

Zaden easily wormed his way into his grandparents' hearts by running to them and cuddling them often, sucking his thumb and laying his head on their shoulders. Since he was much too young last time we saw them to really remember them from our time together in-person, it was fun to see them all get to know each other again.  (I'm sure Skyping helped! Though we don't really get to do it all that often, at least, not often enough!)

One evening shortly before Mom and Dad had to leave we went on a double date to a nice restaurant Ted and I had discovered some months back. A sweet couple from our church family came over to babysit, so we felt comfortable leaving Seanin and some pumped milk and a bottle. We enjoyed visiting over delicious courses that just kept coming and coming! It was nice to have some really GOOD Italian food, since our meals in Rome were so disappointing.

We also hosted an olive oil tasting event for some friends from Sicily. Emilio and Mariska brought their wonderful cooking and massage oils, soaps, and tomato-based products for us to sample along with about 35-40 guests. They cooked and provided some wonderful food for us, and we enjoyed having friends over to visit and eat. The weather was absolutely perfect, and our efforts to keep mosquitoes at bay worked for the most part--although we still got eaten if we went into the yard away from the porch area. Still, it was a very fun evening, and I think my parents enjoyed getting to visit with some of our friends!

Seems like the best part of their visit was just spending time together as a family!

Tobin's Decision

Last Saturday was momentous for Tobin and for our family--he accepted Jesus as his Savior!  Here is the full story with as many details as I can remember, along with his own testimony I had him write out during the week...

In Tobin's words...
On Saturday I had a talk with Mom.  Arden was at Laser tag for Noah M’s birthday party.  I confessed that I felt like there was something inside of me making me do bad things and making me a bully.  I also wanted to play video games nonstop.  At first I thought that I was becoming addicted to them, but then I realized that it was probably the thing inside making me.  We read some Bible verses and talked for a little bit about them.  Then mom asked me if I thought that I had really asked Jesus into my heart.  She said that she didn’t remember when I did it with her.  The only times that I did it, I was alone.  We talked a bit longer, and then we prayed to God.  Then I accepted Jesus into my heart, and immediately I could feel that the thing that was inside was gone.  I also felt a lot happier.  That night, I told Dad about my choice.  He was very happy also.  The next day we told Chaplain Keith.  He was so excited! 

In my words...
Saturday afternoon, about an hour or so before Ted was to leave to take our older boys to a laser tag birthday party, there was an incident involving some inappropriate behavior on Tobin's part. Because he knew full well that what he did was wrong, we told him he would have to stay home from the party. This of course did not go over well, and Tobin stormed up to his room to sulk. I had my hands full with a screaming baby and extra girls who were coming over to play with Charis and Kenna for a little while, so I wasn't really in a position to pursue Tobin and deal further with what had happened...I figured I'd let him sit and think about it for awhile and hopefully talk with him later when he was calmer.

Well, it wasn't too long before Tobin came to find me, tearfully asking if we could talk in my room.  I settled Seanin down and was able to give Tobin my full attention, a small miracle in and of itself given the state of chaos in the house!

As Tobin wrote in the paragraph above, he started off by telling me that he knew that what he had done was wrong, but then as at other times, he felt something inside him telling him to do something bad. He was so tearful and broken up about it.  Praying for wisdom and the right words to speak, I began asking him a few questions, led I'm sure by the Holy Spirit, gently prodding him to think about whether he had ever truly asked Jesus into his life.

For years now Tobin has had the same salvation story--he remembers sitting on his bed and praying to God to ask Him to forgive him and come into his life.  The description of the house where we were at the time means that Tobin was somewhere between 3 1/2 and 4 years old when he says he did this.  I've never discounted this story; I've always felt that there was something to it, because he persisted in telling us this whenever we discussed our relationships with Christ.  At the same time, I've always wondered...just a bit...only because neither Ted nor I was present with him, and he was SO young. Also, he has never wanted to be baptized, even though he has seen Charis and Arden go forward with that step in their faith.

So over the years, I kept quiet and just prayed, going with the assumption that Tobin was indeed born again and praying that God would reveal Himself to Tobin clearly if that weren't actually the case.

On Saturday, we talked for quite some time.  I was so heartbroken to hear Tobin say that sometimes he "heard voices" in his head, basically telling him he would be better off to die and go to heaven. :-( Oh, our enemy does indeed prowl like a roaring lion!  Over the years we have had some significant times of what we felt was intense spiritual warfare surrounding Tobin. He struggled with nightmares for a season while we lived in Las Vegas. He has struggled with insecurity and nervous habits (his latest is pulling at his eyelashes--his right eye has almost no lashes!). And there has just always been something we couldn't directly pinpoint, something different about his heart, his behavior, his responses.  He always had the "right" answer, yet he struggled with certain spiritual issues.

During our talk on Saturday, Tobin also said that he had experienced times when he wasn't even sure if there really IS a God. We talked about faith, how no matter how much evidence there is (we've been talking about that during our science lessons as we see the remarkable complexity of life!), ultimately our decision to follow Jesus is a step of faith...leading to a walk of faith.

Oh, how precious is the Word of God! I am so thankful for the many verses I had to memorize during my growing up years as well as for opportunities to continually study the Bible. We went to verse after verse, particularly places in John and 1 John, showing Tobin how he can know and have confidence in his salvation. Tearfully we held hands and both of us prayed. Tobin prayed specifically for Jesus to forgive him and be his Savior. Oh, the joy!

The difference was immediate! Instead of going to his room to spend time by himself, he began playing with the house full of girls who were here until dinner time! He was happy, joyful, helpful. His smile was radiant. He was positively beaming!

It has been a week now, and I can honestly say that I feel as if we have a new kid living in our house! While he isn't perfect by any stretch, wow, what a difference I have seen in his attitude and behavior. And he is somehow just more sincere--when he offers to help me, I feel as if he truly wants to, whereas before often I would feel that he just wanted to get something out of it...for example, knowing he couldn't play a video game until/unless the cleaning was done.

Perhaps Tobin had the beginning of a spiritual journey during that time he prayed as a small boy in his bed by himself. But last Saturday was truly a turning point for him. I can't wait to see what God has for him!  I have always felt that he may be called to a preaching role some day--a nickname Ted and I have for him is "The Proclaimer." :-) It will be a delight to watch him continue to grow in his faith!

Rome Adventure, Part 4

Columbus Day morning we cleaned our way out of the bungalows and said goodbye to the L family.

Then we headed downtown one last time so we could spend the morning touring St. Peter's in the Vatican City. The line looked daunting but actually moved quite rapidly; I think it took only 20 minutes or so before we made it to the security checkpoint. Ted stayed outside with Seanin in the stroller, not wanting to deal with the stroller and various baby accessories in the huge crowds.  It probably wouldn't have been too bad...aside from the steps to get up INTO the cathedral area, it was open enough that I think we could have managed.  Ah, well, it's a free place to visit, and I'm sure we'll be back with other family members!

There were throngs of people there. I can only imagine how crowded it is on a weekend or during the height of tourist season. I was so very thankful that we didn't have little ones to keep track of; Kenna did a good job of staying with us, despite her refusal to hold someone's hand the whole time. ("Little Miss Independent!")

Sooooo incredible to see Michelangelo's Pieta...

The rest of the cathedral was stunning as well. The natural light is so beautiful, and everything is so large and open. It's quite a different feel from the gothic architecture of Notre Dame, whose grandeur I loved during our visit to Paris in April. We only toured the main cathedral area, though the thought of climbing the dome was tempting! We also passed on going down to the crypt area--lots more crowds, plus Ted was waiting for us outside.

We decided to call it a day and head home. At one point we had thought we might have time to make a stop along the way to see another place we've been wanting to visit, but in the end we pressed on home and arrived hungry and ready for the frozen gnocchi packs from our freezer that were ready for me to heat up in the skillet!

November 02, 2013

Rome Adventure, Part 3

Sunday our group changed plans just a bit; Mom's legs were sore and swollen from all the walking of the previous day, so she and Dad opted to stay in the bungalow and have a day of rest.  Thankfully it was a beautiful day, Dad had lots of reading material, and they were able to enjoy a peaceful, quiet day.

The rest of us went back to the same parking garage we had used the day before and decided to go to a different bus stop since we had just missed the previous bus; unfortunately, we ended up wasting a lot of time as the buses rolled in and then sat at the terminal for what we felt was an unreasonably long time, considering they filled up and people just sat there waiting while the driver and crew ate food from McDonald's...

At any rate, we finally rode the bus to the Circus Maximus and had our picnic lunch there overlooking the grassy area that hosted games and races thousands of years ago.  On the other side is Palantine Hill, which we weren't able to tour; hopefully next time!

From there we did quite a bit of walking, with the next official stop being in Trastavere on the Tiber River.

 We enjoyed some fantastic gelato in the courtyard outside a cathedral said to hold the remains of Bartholomew.  After consuming gelato and visiting with a lovely Italian family for a bit, we crossed back over the bridge and entered the Jewish Ghetto.

This was a fantastic bit of history!  There is much that can be said about this, but I'll just write about the couple things we learned that I found most interesting.  The Jews were initially herded into this area of about three hectares in the 1500s, and it was because of this ostracizing that they were saved from the effects of the Plague!  Isn't God good?!  The picture immediately below shows the interesting contrast between the Jewish living quarters on the left and the line where the ghetto ends: note the buildings are the same height, but there are 6 floors in the Jewish building vs. three floors next door...

We bought some kosher snacks to share as we walked to our next stop, the location where Julius Caesar was assassinated.  It has become a haven for stray cats, with local volunteers taking care of the many felines roaming around the ruins.  The kids enjoyed watching and counting cats, while a few reenacted the "E tu, Brute?" scene!

More walking! Puttering around the streets in a foreign city is always interesting to me! We grabbed a couple of meringues from a bakery to try as we walked, discovered a museum with a Leonardo daVinci exhibit (we didn't go in but looked at a few displays outside), meandered over a bridge, and finally caught the last bus back to the terminal, more than ready for a good dinner.  Unfortunately, the restaurant meal was again disappointing--the food wasn't bad, but the portions were smaller and the prices higher, and the service was definitely not as good as the previous night's.  The last adventure of the day was having to get the Suburban jumped because the parking garage attendants had left the key turned in the ignition all day.  Thankfully, it only took about a half an hour with a screaming baby before we were able to escape. :-/  Otherwise, it was another wonderful day of sightseeing and memory making!

Rome Adventure, Part 2

Time is getting away from me...I will try to be brief so I can catch up this blog a bit!

Saturday morning we all had breakfast together before driving downtown Rome (Italian style again, all of us in the Suburban!) looking for a parking garage across from the hop on, hop off bus terminal.  The garage turned out to have too low of a clearance for us, so we spent a good 20 or 30 minutes driving in circles looking for a place that would work for us.  We finally did get parked and walked to one of the bus stops and got settled in seats on the top deck with our earphones in place to hear the tour guide.

We got off at the Colosseum stop--so exciting to actually be walking toward and then INTO the Colosseum!  Although, knowing the history of the place, I suppose being excited about walking into an arena of death sounds rather macabre!  But what an amazing place to explore.  Sobering, however, to learn more about the many, many deaths--animal and human--that took place for "entertainment."

Mom and Dad with the Arch of Constantinople to the left

Inside with the L family...I guess Zaden and Lucan were running around by Grandma while Grandpa took the picture!
We spent a good amount of time wandering around inside, listening to or reading Rick Steves' audio guide for details.  Then we made our way out and walked over to the Forum, which you can see below, the shot looking out at it from an upper level of the Colosseum.
The top center shows the remains of an old temple; you can see the Arch of Titus peeking above the trees to the left between the columns and the temple.
We shuffled our way through the Forum, feeling rather tired by this time, trying to figure out what various things were with the help of Rick Steves and the posted signs.  Though the kids were starting to drag, they managed to find ways to rest along the way and even be silly!

Charis by the Arch of Titus

A rest stop in the Forum

We found some remarkably intact statues!

At first you see a beautiful shot of Joy and Brian...and then you realize the blue-shirt boy (Tobin) photo-bombing in the background!!

When we finally left the Forum, we realized we had to walk a ways to get to one of the hop-on, hop-off stops.  Oh, were we tired!  We grabbed cheap gelato as we walked to pacify the kids a bit and then gladly collapsed in our seats once the bus arrived.  We enjoyed a briskly cool ride around the city as the bus made its way back to where we had picked it up in the morning.  From there we walked to a restaurant to have a much-anticipated dinner.  The calzones and pizzas were a hit; unfortunately, we were rather disappointed in the pastas (too salty), and Seanin was DONE for the day, so Ted spent most of the dinner wandering around with him in the Ergo, bouncing him and trying to get him to sleep.  Still, food in Rome is food in ROME, so we enjoyed the wrap-up of the day with wonderful friends and family!