Monday, December 31, 2007

gearing up

The Llama Papa is getting ready for a trip to Russia. Siberia, to be exact. He’s going with the Slavic Gospel Association to work on this project. Now, you’re probably wondering why my husband would choose to go to Siberia in January. The short answer is that a good friend of his works at SGA, and he’s always wanted to join him on one of his trips.

When we decided to take a self-funded sabbatical and regroup as a family, we sat down and made a list of what we hoped to accomplish during this time off. The list includes household projects like cleaning out our basement and painting our bedroom, along with personal goals and dreams. My list includes things like completing a book proposal, going to Calvin college’s Festival of Faith in Writing, and going on a silent retreat led by Ruth Haley Barton. The Llama Papa’s list includes this trip to Russia, backpacking in Yosemite, and some classes to keep his job skills sharp. When school’s out for the noisy boys, we hope to do some traveling as a family. That’s on the list too.

I’m thrilled to see my husband go on this trip. As a young college student at Urbana, he felt a distinct call to missions. Not to go, but to send. When we began dating seriously, he shared this call with me, as it would affect our life together in a major area––our finances.

All these years he’s been sending, it’s exciting to see him go.

Will you join me in committing to pray for him while he’s away? He’ll be gone January 2 through the 14th. He’ll be helping on the camera crew, taking pictures with his fancy new camera. The trip schedule is grueling, with planes and trains and not much sleep. Please pray for endurance and good health and safe travels. And for God to show up. Pray especially for that.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rome Ants

I’ve never been a flowers and chocolates kind of girl. Oh, maybe early on in our courtship a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day made my heart go all aflutter. But let’s get real––ten years of marriage and three kids later, the only thing that consistently goes aflutter are my thighs.

But that doesn’t mean romance is dead. On the contrary, it runs stronger than ever through the Llama household. It just looks different.

Today, it looked like my husband cleaning out the garage in 28 degree weather so I can park my mini-van out of the snow and ice. He’s gearing up for a two-week missions trip to Russia, and he didn’t want me to have to scrape my van while he’s away.

That, my friends, is love.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

snapshots of Christmas

Christmas Eve: Grandma and Grandpa Llama graciously take our three boys for several hours in the afternoon. Just long enough for Llama Papa and I to finish cleaning the house. (Oh, how quickly it all goes without any little helpers!)

5:30 p.m. Grandma and Grandpa arrive with their overnight bags and join us for a bowl of soup. A few of my friends have told me how strange it is that my husband’s family (who all live about five minutes away) all spend the night on Christmas Eve. But it feels normal to us, to all wake up together on Christmas morning. And so the tradition continues and we all take turns hosting the party.

9 p.m. My husband’s sister and her family arrive. I tuck my nieces into their bed on the floor of the office.

until 11 p.m. The house is full of Christmas magic as stockings are stuffed and toys are put together. We all have way too much fun trying out the wii that Santa leaves for the noisy boys.

11 p.m. My sister-in-law is impressed with the cute Christmas basket I left on her bed. A few bottles of water, chocolates, tissues, and a flashlight. Of course, they’re sleeping on a pull-out futon in the basement, with boxes of stuff lining the walls. She is sweet to notice the basket instead of the stuff.

2 a.m. “Mom! Mom! My tummy hurts,” a too-hot Twin A. crawls into my bed. I go downstairs to get the children’s tylenol, and give him a dose.
“Did Santa come yet?” he asks.
“I wasn’t paying attention. I was too worried about you,” I tell him.
He cuddles up with his Dad and I move into his bedroom.

7:03 a.m. I hear stirring downstairs, but see that Twin B. is still snoozing. Suddenly, he sits upright and moves his curtain. “YES!” he shouts when the light comes in. Like a bolt of lightning, he runs to his door. I am glad I got to see this. And, thankfully, Twin A’s fever never comes back.

7:15 a.m. Wii.

8:00 a.m. The look on baby b.’s face is priceless. He woke up today with no expectations, and suddenly, there’s a party at his house! With presents! I love watching him toodle around from person to person, trying to take it all in.

8:30 a.m. The cinnamon rolls come out of the oven and we all enjoy this yearly indulgence. I read the Christmas story since everyone is still, and my sister-in-law and I both try to ask the kids thought provoking questions. It doesn’t work, but I’m glad we tried.

9:30 a.m. Twin B. opens a pirates of the carribean dart gun from his Aunt and Uncle. “THANK. YOU.” He tells them. Clearly, this is the favorite of the year. (Yes. I’ve given up my non-violent toy stance. It simply doesn’t matter. The boys were building guns out of Tinker Toys, people.)

11 a.m. We’ve managed to open all of the presents, except a few left for baby b. He’s busy playing with his brother's slinky and has no interest in opening more boxes. I’m beyond grateful for family who understands the nature of an overstimulated one-year old and the fact that nobody insists he open more gifts.

12:01 p.m. More food. We snack our way through the afternoon while baby b. naps.

The cousins play, the grown-ups visit, we all have a turn on the wii. The afternoon is a blur of play and naps and newspapers and conversation.

5:00 p.m. We sit down for a nice dinner, and I’m grateful for the family that gathers here. Half of us are still in pajamas, which is a beautiful thing. The food is a pot-luck of family favorites, and I’m grateful for family that pitches in and brings stuff when the party is at my house. Even more, I’m grateful for the clean-up help.

6:30 p.m. My sister-in-law makes chocolate fondue. Oh. My. What a way to end a party!

Last night on the way home from our favorite chinese restaurant:

Twin B: Santa Claus isn’t real. He’s just for pretend.
Twin A: No! He’s real, B! Remember we left those cookies and in the morning, they were all gone!
Twin B: Maybe it’s somebody’s job to sneak into people’s houses at night and eat all of those cookies.

I love that nobody even considered the fact that maybe Mom might eat the cookies. Just maybe.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

let's not forget

I was at the grocery store recently, with my cart piled high with food for Christmas, and the woman behind me couldn’t stop complaining. “Is this line ever going to move?” she grumbled, ignoring the toothy grin of baby b. in the cart ahead of her. “Any day now!” she called out, loud enough for all around to hear.

I wanted to say something.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in twelve people in the world are malnourished, including 160 million children under the age of five.

I don’t bring this up to be a downer or put a guilt trip on the well-fed of the world. I bring it up because many of us need to be reminded that waiting in line to buy groceries is a blessing. I don’t like shopping either, and I don’t know anyone who likes to wait, but seriously, folks––in a world where 160 million little kids are hungry, what does God think of our grocery store line complaints?

We were at Old Navy a few months ago, buying new winter gear for our three boys. Nothing fancy, just warm coats and hats and gloves, a few pairs of blue jeans, a couple of sweatshirts. I don’t mind buying these things; on the contrary, I enjoy buying my children the things they need.

On the way out, the noisy boys asked for a new ball. “No, guys, not today,” I told them, “we have plenty of balls.”
“You never buy us anything!” Twin B. stomped.
“Yeah,” Twin A. joined in. “You never buy us anything!”

Um. Excuse me? I just spent some $287 on little boy coats and gloves and jeans. And I was happy to do it. But the ungratefulness in the hearts of my boys disturbed me.

“Be grateful,” I told them, “that we can walk into a store and buy the things we need.”

I imagine that God is happy to give us the things we need.

In this season of abundance, let’s not forget to say thank you. Even if we have to wait in a long line.

Friday, December 14, 2007

chocolate and rusty nails

Advent. That’s what I was planning to write about today. A specific memory of the Christmas I was on bedrest with the twins and the deep, abiding peace of Christ.

But, friends, today has not been a deep, abiding peace of Christ kind of day. Not even close.

I woke up in a panic at 4:45 this morning, obsessed with getting the boys’ birthday invitations in the mail. The dishwasher was next, and then wrapping. And then my people were awake.

The morning hit a major snag when I started to wrap a gift and realized the security tag was still on it. I cursed Kohls all the way to the store and vowed to never shop there again no matter how cheap things were. But the woman apologized, a real “I’m-so-sorry-you-had-to-drag-that-baby-out-in-the-cold apology,” and my anger vanished.

For the moment.

The anger reappeared when I stopped off at Burger King to get a refund on the kids’ meals I picked up last night on the way to the children’s museum. The kids’ meals that had no cheeseburgers or milk in them. Only fries. And when I explained the problem to the teenager behind the counter, she accused me of trying to steal cheeseburgers. Honestly, folks. I could not make this stuff up.

I called a friend this afternoon to vent about the craziness of the day, and do you know what she was doing? She was scrubbing the rust off of nails to make some kind of Christmas ornament. She had tried soaking the nails all week on her kitchen counter in an effort to make them rusty, but the darn things wouldn’t rust. So she soaked them in toilet bowl cleaner. It worked, but the rust was orange instead of black. So here it was, one-thirty on Friday afternoon and she was scrubbing away on orange, rusty nails. Of course.

Because we all know Christmas is not about the abiding joy and peace of Christ. It’s about shopping and baking and cards and scrubbing freaking orange rust off of nails to make ornaments.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part of the day. This afternoon I made myself a cup of tea and got out my latest grocery store find: 100 calorie triple fudge brownies. Doesn’t that sound great? A nice, 2-point treat to go with my tea. Desperate for chocolate, I open the package up and pull out a small, wrapped bit of brownie smaller than my thumb.

That is just wrong.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


How did this class empower me, Andrea wants to know? I’ve already written a full six-page essay on the subject, but I’ll spare you that.

I’m less fearful. Most people are surprised to learn that I was walking around most days in a state of hyper-awareness, unable to sleep well, and constantly thinking through “what if” scenarios. (What if someone sneaks into the garage while we ride our bikes around the block?) Facing these fears head-on was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But knowing I’m able to handle a worst-case scenario attack allows me to let go of this hyper-vigilance. Freedom from fear? Empowering. It opens up a whole new world.

I’m more assertive. Just knowing that I have the ability to kick the tar out of someone allows me to set a verbal boundary right where I want it, knowing that if they escalate the situation, I’m prepared.

For instance, I mentioned the drunk man at McDonalds. I was there with my three boys several weeks ago, and he zeroed in on me right away. (I think it’s the blonde, slightly overweight factor. Drunk guys dig chicks like me.)

“Oh, you have three boys,” he said.
“I do.” I responded, noting his slurred speech.
“I have two boys and then I get my girl. You want to know how to get a girl? Let me tell you.”
“No. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Oh, come on. I’m just being nice. Let me tell you what my wife and I did one night...”

(Loudly) “You need to leave me alone. Now. You’re drunk and you don’t belong here. You need to leave.”

And he did.

And can I just say that I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to kick him?

A few months ago I would have handled this differently. I would have been friendly instead of assertive, thinking maybe he would leave me alone if I was nice.

So, how do I feel empowered? I feel much more confident setting verbal boundaries and I am free from fear. The list goes on, but these are the big ones.

Next week? How to share God’s love with drunk men at McDonalds.

Monday, December 10, 2007

don't mess with the llama

Every woman should take this class. In a word? Empowering.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

snow joy

The noisy boys are in heaven. Our first snow of the year dumped not just a sprinkling of powder, but a nice, deep layer of sleddable snow. (Is sleddable even a word? And yes, I was an English major. Don’t ever show this blog to my advisor––please!)

The boys raced outside first thing yesterday morning to help Llama Papa shovel. And yesterday when I picked them up from school, I surprised them with new sleds. We hung out on the playground hill until I couldn’t stand it any more. (I really need to remember to wear my long underwear for these extended playtimes.)

And can popcorn and hot chocolate constitute a real meal? There’s protein in the milk, right? And corn, that’s a vegetable? But I digress.

The real problem of the day was with baby b. He stood at the window all morning, watching the noisy boys, pointing and saying, “brrrr!” He brought me his shoes. He brought me his coat. He wanted to play outside too.

Now, you should know that when the noisy boys were babies, they never wanted to play in the snow. Of course, they didn’t really know it was an option. (Cut me some slack, people. Twin babies in the snow? How would I even do that? And why?)

But baby b. sees his options. And he wants to play in the snow. Do you know how hard it is to find snow gear for a one-year old in December? (Ironically, most snow gear sells out before it ever snows. I know. Strange.) I mentioned my crisis to the Moms in the Kindergarten line and asked if anyone had any ideas.

And when I came to pick up the noisy boys in the afternoon, one of the Moms gave me a pair of the cutest, littlest snow boots you’ve ever seen. Inspired by her basement find, I searched through our blue bins of hand-me-downs one more time. And voila! I found a snowsuit! Never mind that it used to belong to my niece. It fits baby b. perfectly!

So if you see a cute little boy outside, with cute little boots and a kind-of-girly purple and teal snowsuit on, give us a wave! We’re loving winter!

Monday, December 3, 2007

grangers for Jesus

“I made a present for God,” Twin B. thrusts a carefully folded bit of paper and tape into my hands, “since His birthday is coming up.”
“How nice!” I encourage him, “what is it?”
“Well, I think God likes farms, since that’s where He was born.”
“It’s not God’s birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday!” Twin A. shouts from the other room.
“Well, Jesus slept in this thing on the farm. I can’t remember what it’s called.”
“A manger?”
“Yes. That’s it. I made him a granger. To sleep in. And I’m going to put it by my bed and we can sleep next to eachothers.”
“I think God will like it.”
“Me too.”

 “For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.” (Matthew 18:2-5; The Message)