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Only 179 More Days

Last night I pulled out the half-dead morning-glory vines and squeezed back tears.  My feet crunched dead-ness all around, and I fought the yucky pit in my stomach that creeps in every year around this time.  This morning I put on shorts, somewhat in defiance, but succumbed to long pants because my body just can’t take anything below seventy degrees.  Then I heard somewhere how today it’s fall, which means my favorite time of the year is over.  So I did what is only natural for an African-born gal to do.  I cried.  Mourning the loss of barefoot days, flowers in abundance, fireflies at night, and countless hours spent outside, without having to worry about a coat or something to cover my feet.  I may have even found a counter to check off how many days are left until spring.  There are 179 more days.  But who’s counting?

So, yeah, I cried over the phone to my ever-patient husband, who didn’t laugh at me for the hard morning I was having as a mom and as a summer-loving girl.  But I’m not the sulky eleven-year old that I used to be.  Yes, I still resist the urge to slam my bedroom door, and sometimes the door swings out of my hands a little faster than I was hoping it would, and makes a louder bang than I truly intended it to make, but I’m growing up.  So, when seasons change and I let my dislike of it get to my very soul, there is a problem.  I’d like to think there’s a problem with the thermometer or perhaps even the entire earth, but honestly, there’s a problem with me.  There’s this tricky little part in all of us that quickly gives in to difficulty.  It’s the part in us that needs words like, “In everything give thanks,” and “Endure hardship like a good soldier.”  So when everything is wrong with the world, and people who love fall move to my hit-list, there is  problem inside my heart.  I have failed to give thanks, to see the beauty in change, and to wonder at what this change will bring to my life.

Things that thrill me no matter what season: sunshine, my man, running, fresh veggies, aromatherapy school, my amazing children, and music.

So, I choose joy.  Even though I want to curl up in my bed, with chocolate and hot tea until the first day of spring, I simply can not.  I will embrace this colder season of life with dignity, grace and strength provided from the God who made me, knows me, and never leaves me.  I will keep donning my sneakers (along with many other layers) and run with endurance.  I have goals to accomplish.  Children to teach.  Things to learn.  Places to go.  Life can’t stop just  because the sun is further from my part of the globe.  It’s time to pull out my scarves, check my thankfulness-meter, and perhaps buy a few mums to brighten my dead-looking garden.  


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Memory Lane Colliding With Today

Today I’m feeling nostalgic.  Eight years ago, what was going on?  Well, Jack was five months old and a crawling maniac.  Elijah was into drinking tylenol, and wasn’t quite sure what hospitals were for.

Four years ago, we had recently moved.

Three years ago, we couldn’t imagine life without Betty.

Two years ago I publicly confessed my dislike of showers.  I am also reminded that it’s time for another secret invitation soon.

One year ago, a baby was born.  The pictures into my children’s personalities are still so similar, it is uncanny.

Today, these five keep me overwhelmed with joy to be their mama.

This year we decided not to do Awanas.  The little girls were disappointed, and all on her own, Nadine initiated starting a “girl’s club” with Elsie & Betty, where they will memorize verses, do crafts and study the Bible together.  She has it all planned out, and I’m excited to see her organize something like this!  Tonight she even sewed a little vest for Elsie to wear during club.  She will be starting her first steady babysitting job tomorrow, and is also involved in a Bible study/horse club with girls her age.
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Elijah has definitely hit a new phase of life.  Between moodiness, possible changes going on in the voice department, and a little more moodiness, he is growing up… and sometimes that can make one unsure of themselves.  One thing is for certain: that boy can play the piano!  Only three weeks into starting lessons, and he is already grasping it in a remarkable way.  I’m really proud of him.  His musical talent doesn’t only lie in his fingers.  He memorizes songs like no one’s business.  In his own words: “I know this song like I’m breathing.”  He also knows how to tell jokes and make us laugh.
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In looking back at pictures, I noticed that Jack is still wearing the same orange shorts he wore about three years ago.  He keeps growing taller, but his waist stays the same.  He can more often than not, be found upside-down.  Today I gave him a chair to carry out to the trash, since it had broken beyond repair.  Not too long after that, I found him, armed with spindles.
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Yesterday he came up to me and asked, “Mom, has my voice changed?”  I told him, no.  He said, “Oh, good.”  Then Elijah piped up: “We already talked about that, Jack.”  His reply: “I know. But not with Mom.”  He also asked me if I could see any hair on his chest yet.  I hugged my little boy with the smooth, beautiful face and feet as big as my own, and wanted to bottle up his boyish ways forever.  When I asked him to vacuum off the front porch the other day, I noticed the sound of the vacuum was going on for a lot longer than the task required.  I peeked outside to see him doing this, using the front door as a mirror:
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I love the dirt under his arm-pits and the sweat and grime covering his body.  He is one-hundred-and-fifty percent boy.

Elsie still likes shoes, still likes to work hard, and is still enthralled with hair.  On Sunday night, she came downstairs after being tucked in and asked if she could “tidy up a bit.”  I thought about it for about a half second.  She proceeded to pick things off the floor, put them away, sweep the kitchen, wiped this and that, and made a huge difference in the outlook of the downstairs.  She voluntarily pulled out each of her baskets and folded all of her clothes just perfectly before putting them all back.  This girl is my inspiration for organization and cleanliness.  She is also a singer, and often sings Betty to sleep at night.2014-08-29 17.08.49
Betty loves to learn.  She can read, “I am Betty.”  She often adds an “H” somewhere in her name, because she just loves to write H’s.  She can also sing entire songs, and I am amazed at her memory.  Don’t be fooled by the frilly shirt and patent leather shoes.  This girl can climb.  In fact, the entire time she climbed the eight-or-so-foot fence, she sang: “I’m a climber, I’m a climber…”  Yes, yes, she is.  September Phone Photos1
It’s been awhile since I put together a sleepy collage.  I love to sneak pictures of my beautiful babies when they’re asleep.  Just looking at them is making my eyelids droop.  The only one who sleeps pretty much the exact same way every night is Nadine.  One morning, Betty came downstairs and giggled, “Mama, Elsie’s head was on my tummy when I woke up!”  They are so funny when they sleep.
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Run Wild With The Hope

Amazing experiences are like pearls hidden in a shell.  Unless you know there is treasure inside, it is just an ugly shell.  This weekend may have looked like a crazy-dirty-roll-my-eyes-at-another-race-type-run to most people, but if you can be patient, I hope I can unpack and share with you some treasures I found hidden in the rough.
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It started as a team of twelve people I barely knew.  Names painted onto a van.  It ended very differently.
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We had two vans, with six runners per van.  Every runner had three legs to complete, so we made check boxes for each of us to fill in as we finished.  Art meets brawn.  Or something like that.DSC_5035
As second runner, I waited for my first run and tried not to think about how cold I was.  I imagined the warmth that would soon be coursing through my blood once I got going.  Once Bonnie tagged me, I was off.  DSC_5041
I had a two-mile climb before cresting the hill and experiencing an incredible view.  The van drove by me to yell through the windows, words of encouragement.  And I listened to words of worship and blessing through songs in my ears.

And the single hawk bursts into flight
And in the east the whole horizon is in flames 
I feel thunder in the sky 
I see the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out Your name…
And there is still a faith
That can make the mountains move
And a love that can make the heavens ring
And I’ve seen love make heaven ring…
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever ’til you see
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song
Not sung in vain
And I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And I hear the prairies calling out Your name.

I slowed my pace to catch this view with my phone.  It doesn’t do it justice.  I felt so free up there, maybe a bit like how a bird feels when he’s flying across the beauty only visible between earth and sky.  I could feel the glory of the mountains breaking into song and the trees clapping their hands.  I was spectator to the majestic song of praise that is constantly being sung.  My feet kept time, I met with my Maker up there, and it felt like holy ground.

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At the second exchange, I tagged runner 3, and we were off to encourage him.  Sometimes it meant screaming through open van windows, and sometimes it meant using sidewalk chalk along the craziest climb of the race. rr3
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Through each exchange, each runner tagged the next.
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There was a particularly breath-taking view along the way, right before Matthew’s first run.
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Who spoke the Earth and sky to form
Who sets the sun and calls the dawn
Who breathed me out of dust to life
With the will to trust or run and hide

I will stay should the world by me fold
Lift up Your name as the darkness falls
I will wait and hold fast to Your word
Heart on Your heart and my eyes on You

Who loved me through my rebel way
Who chose to carry all my shame
Who breathes in me with endless life
The king of glory Jesus Christ

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After Matthew ran in to finish leg 1 for our van, we headed to another exchange to wait until van 2 finished their first leg.  We slept, refueled, and played Phase 10.  It’s always more fun when you win.
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I was a bit nervous about running through the night.  Donning my headlight, strobe light, and reflective vest, I headed out into the darkness.  They weren’t the only things lighting my way.

For all of this life
Your Spirit ignites
A heavenly fire
Untouched by the night

You opened our eyes
Turned death into life
Revealing all truth
There’s no one like You.

In the midst of the darkest night
Let Your love be the shining light
Breaking chains that were holding me
You sent Your Son down and set me free
Everything of this world will fade
I’m pressing on till I see Your face

At a few points during that run, my team pulled over and got out of the van to cheer me on.  I’m having a hard time putting into words how that actually made me feel.  It was a condensed version of life, really.  We all go through dark times, when fears are tangible and light is dim to nonexistent.  The second I took my eyes off the light from my headlamp, and darted them into the woods lining the dark road, my heart could feel the darkness.  When our eyes are fixed on the light and power that is Jesus Christ, we are truly set free from the fear of darkness.  Because darkness is really just the absence of light.  Dark times can also be very lonely times.  There was literally not a speck of life on some stretches of that road.  When those cheering voices came into view, the feeling of loneliness and isolation was immediately overwhelmed by love.  Love stands outside on a cold dark night and yells your name until you smile and find more strength in your weary legs.
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When we finished our night runs, we were able to rest for a couple of hours at one of the exchanges.  The third and final leg began right at dawn.  My legs were sore, but quickly the adrenaline gave me an extra boost I didn’t think was possible.  We had a few people’s cell phone’s taking pictures along the way.  This one is not from my particular leg, but every run had the ever-encouraging “one mile to go” sign posted and blinking.  It was pretty exciting to hand off the bracelet one more time, and then revel in the joy of being finished.
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Finished running, maybe, but not finished cheering on my team.
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When we all completed our legs, we ate a delicious meal before driving to the finish-line in Washington D.C.  I even managed to wash my hair and self in the small bathroom sink at Panera.  Glory.  rr2
The view was gorgeous from the finish line, and then it began to pour.  Van 2 team did an amazing job of enduring over very difficult hills, through the night, and in the rain.  A few minutes before our last runner crossed the finish line, the sun came out and smiled on our tired but happy team.
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Driving home, the sun kept on shining.  Check marks on the windows reminded me of hundreds of miles run.  Goals accomplished.  Hills conquered.  Darkness overwhelmed by light.  No longer just names painted on a van.  Real souls, with stories of their own.  Real hearts that pump blood through their bodies.  Bodies capable of more than each of us thought possible at times.  Names turned into friends.  Friends who made me laugh to my core, and changed me in some intangible way I haven’t quite figured out yet.  But I know I’m better because of them.
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I’ve been shaken up a little.  Pushed out of my comfort zone a lot.  And somewhere out there on the road, I found a part of myself I didn’t know was missing.
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When I agreed to this race, I only saw the shell.  I was skeptical of the entire idea.  Yet through the hard work and grit and grime, a real pearl emerged.  It reflects teamwork, laughter, determination, and friendship.  Unique and priceless.  Press on.  You never know where the next road will take you.


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200-ish Miles and At Least One Shower

I mean to take showers every day.  Really I do.  But I often tell myself that it will happen after I exercise.  It’s a lovely treat to wash away all the stinky sweat after a good run.  But when I forget to shower… I mean, exercise… I will usually be reminded by my sweet 6-year old.  It’s pretty bad when she looked at me yesterday afternoon as I stretched my arms in the air and said, “Mom!  This is like the fifth time I’ve told you… You need to shave your armpits!”  Oy!  My oldest sister used to remind me to take showers.  Now my daughter does.  As I’ve said before, it’s not my favorite thing to do.

This little girl is the queen of pull-ups!  She can do three dead-hang pull-ups in a row, and at least a dozen times a day I see her going down to the basement to practice yet again.  She is a funny girl.  The other day she said to me, “My life is changing.  Everything I used to like I don’t like anymore.”  I think we were just having a meal she wasn’t too fond of eating, but from her point of view, it was much more dramatic than that.  She loves to sing and dance and do one-handed cartwheels.  She is growing out her hair and can hardly wait until it’s down to her waist.
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“I don’t want my hair in a pony any more,” Betty said to me.  “I want it in my ears.”  I think she meant “behind my ears”, but that’s ok.  I understand her sweet three-year-old vocabulary.  Which is really quite astounding.  She is a precious girl with a lion’s heart.  She can count very fluently until about ten, then she says things like, “Eleventeen, twelve-teen, thirteen…”  But she is improving daily on her school work, and sits for HOURS at her little desk.  She isn’t afraid of bugs.  “Real bugs fly like this!” she told me one time, flapping her arms like a bird.  “I really like ants and lightning bugs.”  Betty reminds me to use special things every day, because every day is special.  Like when she wears her most beautiful dress.  It’s a creamy butter yellow with tulle all around it.  I used to think it should only be worn on very special occasions.  Now it is worn to ride bikes, climb trees, and during sword-fights, because every day is special.

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Our week was short but very full.  The boys find reading much easier dressed in soldier gear.  On Sunday, we had the privilege of meeting Jay, from Kenya!  He was a graduate from Compassion International, and we heard his story last week at the mobile experience.  Nadine has her boot off at last, and this morning the stitches came out too.  She isn’t up to running yet, but not having crutches or a big boot is a huge blessing!  Getting back onto a horse, bareback, was a huge highlight for her this week.
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This weekend, Matthew and I will be running in a 200 mile relay with other people from his work.  I am runner #2 of 12.  Here is a look at my three legs of the race:2014-09-10 15.20.15
I’m a little bit nervous about it, but excited too.   This weekend I got my longest run in that I’ve had since March… so I hope I survive!
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Nadine told me to take lots of pictures of this weekend.  I’m mostly excited to be with Matthew for a a couple of days, even if it is doing something rather crazy.  And in honor of Elsie, I’ll be sure to get at least one shower.


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From Kenya to Valley Forge

Yesterday we traveled to two countries.  Compassion International has a mobile experience where you can walk through two lives of children and hear their stories through an audio tour.  It was amazing.
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It was difficult to hear of their circumstances, as Elsie’s eyes show so clearly.  It was plain hard.  But so good for them to experience life outside their own.
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We highly recommend the Compassion Experience, and encourage you to consider sponsoring a child!
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After a successful trip to the Dr. for Nadine’s toe, we celebrated its steady healing by having a picnic at Valley Forge.  We have never been to Washington’s Headquarters before, so we really enjoyed exploring around his house.
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Then Jack really wanted to see the “squirrel’s house”, so we headed in that direction.  Yes, he did hand-stands along the entire way.
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Elijah was such a good big brother, giving piggy-back rides to all his sisters!  This one was especially hilarious.
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Betty was hot and tired.  And cute.
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At last we found the squirrel’s house.  (That’s what we like to call it).  We knocked and knocked.  No answer.
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What a delightful day, overall.  In the words of Elsie: “You wore us out, mommy!”  I am so thankful for my children, and for each day we can spend together.


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Life in Collage

With over two weeks of school under our belt, we have so many fun adventures already embedded into our memories.  Since Nadine’s broken toe, five weeks ago, we have made several trips to the orthopedic dr. to make sure everything is healing as it should.  The plus side to this, is we have been making celebratory stops at Valley Forge and enjoying picnics and fun there together on the way home.  We love the history and beauty of the park.  A few weeks ago we were at Washington’s Memorial Chapel and acted out Romeo and Juliet.  We are learning about Shakespeare in school.
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Other things included in our school days are much reading, taking walks, and going places.  Notice Betty playing “Dr. Bosler” (that is our chiropractor).  Nadine is making quite the impression on her.  The injured digit of choice is the toe these days.  The boys love to hang out together in their room and “talk”.  Jack creams me in Mancala every single time.  The score is usually seven to whatever number the pile of stones is on his side.  Elijah is obsessed with the microscope.  He took pictures of what he saw through the viewfinder, and made a collage of it for me.
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Last week, we went to the shore house for the weekend.  We played at the park, went to the beach, took naps in the tent, and watched the ferry come in one evening.  On our last night there, Nadine stepped on something very sharp with her UNINJURED foot, and sliced the bottom of it open pretty badly.  So, Matthew and I spent the next four hours at the ER with her.
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At least she was able to get some fun in on the beach before it happened.  Now the poor girl has a boot for her right leg, and a special shoe for the stitches on her left.  Thankfully, she can put pressure on her broken toe foot now, so she doesn’t have to figure out how to walk without both feet.
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This last collage shows just a glimpse of our past week.  Another picnic at Valley Forge (more pictures of that later), beautiful sunsets, laughter in the car, many handstands, working on chores, reading, visiting Matthew at work, and how I often feel after a full,  busy day of mama-ing these five amazing children!
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I hope you enjoyed life from the point of view of my phone camera.  Life is indeed beautiful.
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Oh I Would Run 3 Miles or More Just To See You Walk Right Through That Door

Today was our “official” first day of school.  Everyone dove in excitedly, and we got everything done that was on our schedule!  We waited all day for Matthew to come home, because we knew he was driving home in something pretty special.  If you heard the screaming from the West End, those were our children excitedly welcoming their Daddy home from his first day of work at Rittenhouse Builder’s.  In his “new” truck, no less.
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A few weeks ago, he was offered the position of a project manager at Rittenhouse, and after praying about it the Lord confirmed that this was the right next step to take!  He even provided a much-needed new truck for Matthew, and medical benefits.  We are incredibly thankful.  We were not looking for a new job, but God fit Matthew for this perfectly.  I’m so proud of him!  Elijah is too, but he was just tired of smiling into the sun.
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As for the teacher of those wild and amazing children… she needed to pound out some miles tonight.  So, this is me, after running practically all uphill for 3 miles to go fetch Matthew’s old truck and drive it home.  Because that is just something we like to do.  Or, it might have something to do with the fact that I’m training for a relay race taking place in three weeks.  I am slotted for 15 miles, split into 3 runs over the weekend.  I’m pretty excited since Matthew and I will be doing it together with a team from Rittenhouse.
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So, that was our day in a nutshell!  I’m excited for new beginnings, overcoming challenges, and a gracious Heavenly Father who is holding us through it all.  The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad!  (Psalm 126:3)