Gathering Grace, Gathering Manna

God gives grace like manna – daily and always enough to meet our need.  Why do we not go and gather the grace He freely gives?  Why do we choose to limp through our days on our own strength rather than choosing to be carried by the grace of God?  Last week I attempted to walk in my own strength as I carried the heavy, heavy burden of all we had seen and experienced in Haiti.  This week I start fresh, listing the gifts and falling hard on the grace He gives, thankful for mercies that are new every morning.  Counting the gifts is a way of listing the graces, how moment by moment He shows Himself faithful.  And He is always faithful.

1541.  feeling the Enemy’s attacks again

1542.  sorting truth from lies

1543.  God’s wild, obvious protection

1544.  clean sink

1545.  clean floors

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1546.  friends home from Haiti

1547.  wonderful reports about our sweet girl

1548.  images of Godly men loving on orphans

1549.  a long, slow Saturday at home

1550.projects completed

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1551.  five days

1552.  seventy degree days

1553.  details coming together

1554.  preparations coming to an end

1555.  laundry not folded

1556.  house not clean

1557.  piles not put away

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1558.  team packed and ready to go

1559.  New York City skyline at night – modern beauty

1560.  a  long-awaited day – finally here

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1561.  Lifeline

1562.  meeting her

1563.  first hugs

1564.  a big smile when she sees me

1565.  meeting all of these children

1566.  hearing “Mama”, “Papa”, “mi Mami, mi Papi”

1567.  all of our paperwork for our embassy appointment!

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1568.  Misterline

1569.  Gretchen

1570.  Miliane

1571.  wrestling emotions

1572.  feeling connected

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1573.  no power, no a/c

1574.  church in Haiti

1575.  roosters crowing all night long

1576.  praising God together

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1577.  beautiful Shela

1578.  praying and singing with all the girls

1579.  missing home

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1580.  I-600 filed!

1581.  Titi the driver

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1582.  food distribution

1583.  beautiful, hungry people

1584.  joy and hope amidst poverty, extreme poverty

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1585.  seeing her smile again

1586.  that bottom lip

1587.  working in the dirt

1588.  Nicole’s story

1589.  opening the floodgate of tears

1590.  unpacking a lot of emotion

1591.  going home soon

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1592.  Haiti beach

1593.  watching the older kids “swim”

1594.  roommates

1595.  Aicha

1596.  braided hair

1597.  last night here

1598.  girls singing

1599.  sharing, reflecting, praying

1600.  hard, hard good byes

1601.  home

1602.  beautiful basket from a friend, food for  the whole weekend

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1603.  Haiti smells, Haiti memories

1604.  daily seeing their faces in my mind

1605.  knowing God holds them even when we cannot

1606.  school year that drags on difficult

1607.  a day set aside to show love

1608.  mental, heart fog that hangs heavy

1609.  wandering, feeling lost, directionless

1610.  broken washer, thermostat, all these earthly things

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1611.  music – a soothing balm that flows from my phone, with me everywhere I go

1612.  Psalm upon Psalm that directs me in the way

1613.  a long nap with a snuggly six year old

1614.  arms that feel so empty

1615.  friend that lets me invade her house and use her washing machine while mine sits useless

1616.  days that feel like I’m banging my head on a wall

1617.  weeks that feel that way too

1618.  beginning to see truth amidst the confusion, to see God’s purpose

1619.  dinner with friends that understand, encourage, challenge

1620.  a working washing machine!

1621. a Saturday at home

1622.  still processing our Haiti experience

1623.  seeing His grace in all these past ten days

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We are able to have as much of God as we want.  Christ puts the key to His treasure chest in our hands and invites us to take all we desire.  If someone is allowed into a bank vault, told to help himself to the money, and leaves without one cent, whose fault is it if he remains poor?  And whose fault is it that Christians usually have such meager portions of the free riches of God?  ~ Alexander MacLaren (Streams in the Desert, February 20)

May you drink deeply of God’s great riches in grace and mercy this week and may your eyes be opened to the manna that is always before you, the daily, moment-by-moment renewing of His grace.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Choices

I want to write, but the words come slow.  The house lies quiet still.  I will let them sleep a while longer.  Yesterday was a long day.  We all need rest.

One week.  One week until we go.  One week until I meet her.  One week until everything changes.

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Everyone asks if I am excited.  Of course I am excited!  But excited lies beneath busy and half-crazy and slightly stressed out.  Getting six of us ready for a trip of this length is no small undertaking.  The husband, he threatens not to take me on trips anymore.  I will have the freedom to feel excited in a week.  When the house sitter is here and the door is locked and all is done that can be done and good byes are said and we are headed out.  That’s when excitement will hit.

Until then, it’s one foot in front of the other, do the next thing, trying to whittle the to do list down to what is truly necessary, trying to keep it from taking over life and stealing time and stealing joy.

That’s the true challenge this week.  To find joy in the midst of the chaos.  I know this is what God continues to work in me this past year.  He prepares me for something, I know not what, I dare not wonder too much.  But lack of control is a running theme and I’m learning faster to notice it and to not resist it and fight for that control.  But I’m still a slow learner sometimes and will kick against Him for some time before I become too tired to fight any more.

So, joy.  That’s what I choose today.  In the midst of the swirling madness of family life, I choose joy.  In spite of seasonal depression that tries to sneak in and a whole hotbed of other raw, real emotions that bubble just below the surface, I choose joy.  In the face of Satan’s attacks and lists that run long and children that will be children and real life that is just inconvenient sometimes, I choose joy.

I know firsthand that my God is with me.  He is my very present help in time of trouble.  He has made His presence known to me already today.  Right now, this song plays on my computer.  I soak in truth and will cling to it today.  And I will choose joy.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

A List with Pictures

As I continue to give humble thanks for the gift that was last week and the weekend, and as we prepare to open up a new week of learning, living, and practicing grace, a quick list and some pictures I found yesterday from this past summer.

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1535.  a completely different week – blessing!

1536.  date night

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1537.  family night

1538.  quiet Sunday

1539.  ten more days

1540.  generosity of friends

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Wishing you a week of beauty and thanksgiving….

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Photo Thursday

Today we took a break and headed north.  We played with baby goats and grown up ones, ate outside on a perfectly beautiful day, and enjoyed the company of friends.  Just the therapy we all needed after an emotional week.

I took photos of all the girls, but there was something about the lighting and Chandler’s hair and her all calm and still (a rare thing indeed)….I love these shots from this morning.

Building Confidence

Three years ago, I bought my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D60. We had a massive yard sale and I earned enough to pay cash. It’s been a love/hate relationship ever since. When I got a good picture I got an awesome picture. But when I didn’t get a good picture I got a horrible picture. And I never knew what I was going to get.

When I first got the camera a friend told me to read the manual, cover to cover. I tried, but not being versed in photo-jargon, it might as well have been written in Greek, so I quit. Another friend taught be about aperture and light and that made a huge difference in my end results. I learned about white balance to eliminate the weird yellow hue I kept getting and I learned about using filters in Photoshop. I was able to more consistently get a good shot, especially outside. And the ones that didn’t turn out great I could usually edit to make them look better. Inside, however, I still felt lost.

This summer I decided I was fed up with getting so-so pictures and checked out three books from our local library and added them to my Summer Reading List. Then, my brother-in-law approached me about needing to buy a DSLR for a class he’s taking this fall and would I be interested in selling mine and upgrading? Because I still felt clueless about so many things, I only wanted to take a small step up in cameras to one that had an internal motor that would work with my 50 mm lens, as the D60 did not have that capability. So, I stepped up to the D80 and added its manual to my reading list.

After reading the manual (all the way through this time!) and those three books, I feel so much more confident about my picture taking. I’m excited to start shooting again and to purposely try some low-light, indoor photography. I finally figured out how to shoot in manual mode and am learning when shutter speed should take priority over aperture and vise-versa.

The first book I read was Digital SLR Cameras and Photography for Dummies by David Busch. I’m not a fan of the For Dummies books, but when you’re feeling like one they do seem to help a lot! 😉 I’ll be honest….it was boring and very textbook-like (with some humor thrown in), but it was helpful and I took away some good information.

The second book was Understanding Composition by Steve Mulligan. This book was a big improvement over the first one as far as readability. It was interesting and helpful, but I most enjoyed looking at the pictures the author had of Kansas. He has some great shots of the Konza Prairie and other places I’ve never seen in my home state.

The last book was Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. This was, by far, my favorite and understandably so since getting the correct exposure has been my problem all along. I’m really excited to try some of the exercises he put in the book and this is the book that honestly gave me the courage to try shooting in manual mode.

**Update: I typed this a couple of weeks ago and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. In that time, I’ve had the privilege of shooting some candids for a friend’s high school reunion, which gave me an excellent opportunity to work on those low-light indoor elements. As I work through the pictures I can see that I still have a lot to learn, but I can also see the benefits of the time I took to learn more about my camera and how to make it do what I want it to do.

They're even excited for me! 😉

What about you?  What’s something you would like to take time to learn more about today, this week?  Go for it!  You’ll be glad you did!

~ Sara

Joy Giving

JOY. 

It’s the gift I want to give my children, my family.  It’s the legacy I want to leave.  I want to break my history of and bent toward sadness and melancholy and fill our home with peace, joy, love.  I want to be who God made me and I want to glorify Him with a joyful heart.

Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is His will: to give thanks, to rejoice always.  And the strength to do so comes when we pray without ceasing.  Prayers of thanks, prayers for help, prayers for grace, for peace, for hope.  A life of joy flows from a life of prayer and thanksgiving.  May this be the life I live.

1259.  swimming with friends

1260.  really cool VBS

1261.  hard choices

1262.  a broken leg and nothing worse

1263.  Symphony in the Flint Hills

1264.  slowing down again

1265.  baby steps toward bringing her home

1266.  generosity of others

1267.  splash pads and mexican food

1268.  spontaneous daddies and a wonderfully fun Father’s Day

1269.  joy…joy…joy!

May you find joy in His presence this week, my friends!

~ Sara

*photos from a beautiful night with dear friends at the Symphony in the Flint Hills

Texas Tour, Part III

So, I got up yesterday and planned to post the final installment of our whirlwind trip, but I just couldn’t bring myself to edit any more photos or stare at my computer screen.  But I’m here today to wrap up our series of unfortunate events.  🙂

We had our day in San Antonio on Tuesday.  Late that afternoon we drove to New Braunfels to spend a couple of days with friends there.  We had a truly delightful time with Cory and Whitney and their three kiddos.  On their property is an old German-style cabin with a living room, small kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom.  It was just about the most charming thing I’ve ever seen.

The city of New Braunfels is apparently quite the safe haven for deer.  They are virtually over-run by them.  And they are extremely bold in how close they will get to you.  New Braunfels/San Antonio were/are in a severe drought and hadn’t had rain in nearly a year (tuck that in the back of your mind, as this detail will be important later).  It seems that this is part of the reason for the boldness of the deer.  Anyway, they were everywhere and would get close enough you could almost feed them by hand.

You can see our cabin in the back ground on the right, for a perspective on how close they would get to people. This photo was taken at the same time as the one above, so Matt was standing on the porch while this deer was in the yard.

So, Tuesday night we just relaxed and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Cory and Whitney.  I hadn’t laughed that hard or that much in a long time.  On Wednesday, Whitney took us on a tour of local hot spots.  First up was the quaint little town of Gruene.  Like the cabin, I’m not sure when I’ve seen a place more charming.

Matt, busted for abandoning Whitney and myself to seven children in a toy store.

Ellie enjoying a marble maze

We spent the morning strolling through the little town, the girls picked up trinkets at the general store (including Emma’s choice:  a bow and arrow set, complete with bowie knife), and we ate lunch at the Gristmill.  The forecast for the day had been 40% chance of rain (take notes, as once again, this detail will be important later), and we got showered on briefly while dining on the patio at the Gristmill, but other than that, they day was glorious.

That afternoon, Whitney took us all to “the island”.  Apparently, with their property comes access to an private island on the Comal River.  And, once again, it was unlike anything we’d ever seen before.

Riding the golf cart to the island.

At the Comal River

Ellie refused to get in because we didn't bring her floatie ring. Her loss.

Ellie's brief foray into the water.

Grace jumping off the diving board into the river.

Sylvie (Cory & Whitney's daughter)

Emma walked out to the end multiple times but never would jump off. She didn't like the fish swimming under the diving board. No, she doesn't take after her mother at all. (Dont't ask me how I feel about swimming in lake water.)

Rett jumping in.

I was also blessed to get to meet another Facebook / blogging friend in real life.  Abby brought her kids out to the island and we had the chance to meet and visit.  Getting to meet so many people on this trip was definitely one of the highlights!

At some point int he afternoon, the kids found a turtle and decided to build it a home in the sandbox.  I’ve never felt so sorry for a turtle in all my life.

The poor, helpless turtle that the kids tried to "help" for much of the afternoon.

Bridger observing the construction of the turtle habitat.

About half of the kids working on the turtle habitat. They just kept adding more and more water and more and more features.

Wednesday night, as we sat around the table with Cory and Whit, the topic of Sea World came up.  I was lobbying hard for it and Matt was reluctant.  His points were extremely valid – we were all exhausted, it would mean another day added to the trip, it was rather expensive, etc.  My points were that we wouldn’t be this close to a Sea World again for quite a while, the girls had just finished up a year of studying about sea creatures in school, and they had been looking forward to it ever since someone (not me) mentioned at dinner a month before that we would be going to an amusement park.  Ahem.

Thursday morning we got up and the discussions of Sea World began again.  We remained divided on the issue, but eventually Matt caved came around and bought the non-refundable tickets.  We woke the girls up without telling them our plan for the day and immediately began loading up the truck.  Everyone was tired and grouchy but I kept telling myself it would all be fine once we got to Sea World.  Right????

The forecast for the day was a 50% chance of thunderstorms, but we had been seeing that all week, so surely it would be fine.

Because Sea World San Antonio has a water park inside, we put on swim suits and sundresses (Matt didn’t wear a sundress) and the girls couldn’t figure out for the life of them why we were wearing swim suits to drive home.

We managed to get the entire truck packed and girls loaded up by 9 am, with the goal of being to the park by the time the gate opened at 10.  We strapped our luggage on top and re-duct taped the carrier before heading out.  The girls snuggled back in to their pillows and blankets and, I’m guessing, mentally prepared for the long drive home.

It’s worth pointing out here that New Braunfels is about an hour closer to Kansas than Sea World is, so in going to Sea World, we were actually making a longer drive home for ourselves.  But it was going to be worth it!  Oh the memories we were going to make that day!  At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

So we started to head south toward San Antonio.  As we were driving the sky became very ominous, having a distinct green color to it.  Being from Kansas, a green sky typically only means one thing – tornadoes.

We are all very quiet at this point.  I’m starting to feel rather sheepish and silently, fervently, praying that the weather will turn and God will redeem the day.  I can only imagine what Matt is thinking, but I’m confident it’s not very flattering toward me.

The closer we get to Sea World, the worse the weather gets.  First rain starts to fall, then the wind really starts to pick up.  I watch the indoor thermometer on the truck and the outside temperature drops nearly 15 to 20 degrees as we’re driving.  Heavy, heavy rains begin to fall, along with hail.  Whitney is texting us weather updates and finally calls, saying the news is saying tornadoes (what’d I tell you?) and severe weather all morning.  ** heavy sigh**

At this point I suggest pulling off the highway until some of the weather passes because I’m honestly concerned that the wind is going to rip our suitcases right off the top of the vehicle.  But, in keeping with our Griswold theme, we kept right on trucking.

I call the Sea World hotline to discuss the possibility of getting a refund on our tickets.  The woman on the other end is sympathetic but unmovable in regards to their no refunds policy.  Our moods are now about as gloomy as the sky outside.

We pull up to the gate at Sea World a few minutes before the gate is scheduled to open.  A handful of cars have already lined up at the entry.  As 10 o’clock comes and goes, Matt says dryly, “This is starting to look familiar.”

The moment when I was genuinely concerned Matt was going to go "Clark Griswald" on me.

As we wait, we see a couple of school buses come out, full of children.  This is not a good sign.  After a few more minutes, a couple of cars give up and turn back.  A couple of other cars go in through the open Exit gate to see what’s going on.  We follow them.

Inside, the security guard says that Sea World is closed for the day.  Matt said later he contemplated pulling out a water gun and insisting that the guard take us to see Shamu, but he restrained himself.

And so, an hour further from home than when we started, we turned back.  On the one hand, we had done the right thing (in my mind) by the girls and at least tried to go to Sea World.  On the other hand, we were now out more time and a lot of money with nothing to show for it.

We drove silently north, trying to make the best of things.  Once the rain lifted enough that I could actually hear myself think, I made another attempt at calling Sea World.  I told the nice woman our sob story and, eventually, she was able to refund our money.  Thank you, Lord

The whole way home I felt like I was waiting on that last bit of disaster.  The icing on the cake would truly have been for the luggage to blow off the top of my truck.  At this point in the trip, it may have even been funny.  Fortunately, the Lord didn’t see fit to stretch our senses of humor that far and the luggage stayed firmly attached the whole way home.

On the way home, we stopped back in Austin to return beach chairs to our friends that loaned them to us for Port A.  Then we stopped for an early dinner with great friends Dan and Laurie near Dallas and dessert with another family of friends Jamie and Julianne.  At 9:30 on Thursday night, we got into the Sequoia and Matt was finally able to push the “Home” button on the GPS.  At 4:30 Friday morning, we finally pulled into our driveway and dragged ourselves up to our beds.  Home never felt so good.

A lot of things went wrong on our Texas Tour and it would be easy to focus on that.  But we had a wonderful time as well.  Matt got to see friends he hadn’t seen in 20 years; I was able to meet “friends” I only knew through his stories and Facebook.  We spent a lot of time as a family and shared a lot of experiences and, without a doubt, this is a trip we will all remember for a very very long time and I’m truly thankful for every last bit of it.

Oh yeah...we also saw this big guy up close and in person our last night in NB. Wouldn't have missed that for the world! 😉

For God’s Glory ~

~ Sara

Texas Tour, Part II

So we left off our adventure yesterday with horrific sun burns, among other things.  We left Port Aransas a little before lunchtime and headed over to San Antonio.  We gave thanks for the warm temps with intermittent clouds that protected us from the sun.  Grace felt so miserable when we left the condo that she couldn’t bring herself to change out of her pajamas into regular clothes.  Not thinking, I threw all of her clothes into the suitcase and then handed it to Matt to strap to the truck in our now red-neck car top carrier.  So, upon arrival in San Antonio, poor Matt had to drag that monster of a suitcase back down so she could change.  I got the award that day for thinking ahead.  😉

Feeling the way we did, our goal was to keep it low-key and still have a good time.  We strolled the River Walk and checked out the Alamo.  And, of course, ate mexican food.  That was about all any one was up for on Tuesday.

San Antonio appeared to be a beautiful city.  The River Walk was gorgeous and would be such fun for a couples get away and the Alamo was everything I’d heard about it – cool, but not much to it.  There appeared to be a ton of things to do in SA if one were to spend more than six hours there.  Sadly, we were ready to keep moving on our trip.

Still, good times were had and more memories were made.  And fortunately we made it through Tuesday without incident!  Woo hoo!

Grace "feeling the burn", so to speak.

I don't even know what this face is about.

A smiley one!

Emma enjoying her lunch.

River Walk

Another spot along the river.

Ice cream!

Maybe she thinks I'm going to steal her cone?

Of course she picked the "Krazy Kolors" flavor. I love the spot of ice cream on her nose.

The Alamo

Reading up

Matt felt like we should document the fact that I was, in fact, on this trip.

While taking the previous picture, a man walked by and offered to take a photo of all of us. Props to him for actually getting my manual lens to focus!

Relaxing when we couldn't walk any more.

While San Antonio probably could have been more fun had we all felt better, we made the most of it and made more memories.

Up next, a couple of refreshing, relaxing days with friends and more unfortunate events.  🙂

Happy Wednesday, friends!

~ Sara