Sunday, November 25, 2012

the perfect christmas tree

if you've seen national lampoon's classic movie, christmas vacation, chances are you probably remember the scene where the family goes deep into the wilderness in search of the perfect christmas tree, right?  

and you probably remember the part where clark griswold, in his great christmas optimism, attempts to persuade his reluctant family:

"We're kicking off our fun old fashion family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols. "

it was a mission.  

an adventure. 
an opportunity for extreme family bonding.  
oh yes, yes it was.

Ellen: Clark, Audrey's frozen from the waist down. 

Clark: That's all part of the experience, honey.

it has always been a mcnatt tradition to get our christmas tree(s) the day after thanksgiving.  it's what we do.  it's what we've always done.  the turkey and trimmings are put away.  dishes washed.  thanks given and off we go.  the christmas tree hunt ensues and the christmas season officially begins!

and living in minnesota didn't change the plan one bit.

except that sometime on thursday, in the middle of thanksgiving dinner, winter showed up. wednesday we were in the 60s but by thursday night, we had dropped to the low 20s.  friday dawned and the sun shone, but the cold stayed strong.

we had heard about a place a little ways a way. we aren't all that far from wilderness where we are living now, so off we went, heading down a cold country road.  yukon bouncing along. kids excited in the back.  seat warmers on.  spirits bright. expectations high. we were heading out into the great outdoors for our great [indoor] christmas tree. we all felt it, christmas had begun.  even little bella kept asking me, "is it christmas yet, mama? is this christmas now, mama?"

 z's trees.  that's where we were headed.  (along with everyone else in minnesota).

we hopped out of the car.  kids running everywhere.  it was then that i noticed connor had no hat and only his thin fall-weather jacket.  where was his winter coat?  oh shoot. at the same time, i realized rick had no hat or gloves either. and emily had decided to go only with the layered look and a flimsy headband.  sarah had a good coat on, but informed me quickly she had forgotten her gloves on the kitchen table back home.  

we started to look at the lot of cut trees, that was all we had really planned to do, just browse the christmas tree selection (indoors).  but then, all of a sudden, there was this tractor with a wagon attached and people began to climb up onto it. and the cut tree picking in the indoor section was actually kind of slim and the wagon, of course, looked like an adventure.  and, well, you know how the mcnatt family feels about adventure.  before we knew it, we were all up on that wagon bed huddled together on hard plank benches.

how far were we going?  what were we really doing?  how long would this take? exactly how cold was it out there, anyway? and most importantly, was there shelter?  these were just some of the questions we never thought to ask.

the tractor began to move and the wind to whip.  and all of a sudden, i couldn't believe how cold it was.  heads bent and shoulders hunched we all wiggled closer together. christmas adventure, my freezing foot! what the heck had we gotten ourselves into?  it was then that i saw a family of four across the hay bales.  they were all decked out in incredible cold weather gear. there wasn't an item on their warm bodies which didn't boast some  serious outdoor logo.  the dad had on some kind of camo winter boots (my husband was wearing loafers), the mom and kids were wearing snow pants, they all had high tech gloves, high tech everything. they looked smug. they looked warm.  the mom was taking pictures and the kids were laughing.  and we were...well, we were freezing.

miles later, the tractor stopped.  the driver announced it was time to get off.  "grab a saw from the back," he bellowed.  "i'll be back in a little while."  the other people on the wagon grabbed their children and their saws and went running off in various directions like it was some kind of christmas competition.  i looked at emily and said, "it kind of feels like we've just landed in the hunger games."  she looked at me in disbelief, "i was just thinking that same thing, mom!"  and we laughed.  our heads still bent to the wind. we were the last family standing still and before he pulled away, we asked the driver, "um, could you tell us where the really big trees are?"  he pointed in an ambiguous direction and quickly started up his tractor. there we were,  out in the wilderness.  saw in hand.  gloves on kitchen table back home. and i'm pretty sure i could hear the wind whispering, "may the odds be ever in your favor."

"okay, kids,"  rick yelled, raising the saw in battle cry, "let's go find the perfect tree!" we started our sprint.  all seven of us searching in different directions.  we carefully scrutinized tree after tree after tree.  our fingers began to numb, our cheeks to burn and our eyes to water.  rick (in his loafers) stepped into a random hole -- this was not going well.  bella, (who was really well bundled up) was also beginning to feel the cold.  but still we hunted.  there were lots of little trees....but we had our minds set.  the mcnatts wanted something big, something grand, something fabulous. something perfect. deeper into the wilderness we went.  still, no big trees.  and still no sign of the tractor.  no, there wasn't much snow, just a light dusting, but i cannot describe to you the cut of the cold and the whip of the bitter wind. what the heck had we been thinking?

at one point, emily took pity on her dad and shared her burberry plaid scarf with him, wrapping his poor head and frozen ears in her fashionable accessory.

do you remember my post from last spring when i announced we'd be moving to minnesota?  the title of that post kept running through my mind as we ran through this christmas tree farm.  "a daring adventure or something"...yes, yes indeed...this was absolutely our something.

what seemed an hour later, we finally heard the rumble of approaching tractor.  as it crested back over the hill, we still had not settled on the perfect christmas tree.  rick (in burberry scarf) looked at the kids and said, "okay kids, that's it.  back on the tractor everyone, we're going to home depot!"  

and we did.

we climbed back into our car, cranked up the heat, turned on the seat warmers and laughed about our little adventure. we laughed all the way back to civilization and back to the neighborhood home depot.

the selection of trees was enormous.  hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous trees everywhere, with little signs and nice price tags, arranged by height and type.  emily, running through the aisles, opened her arms wide and yelled, "look mom...look at all the trees!" in a dramatic gesture of relief she began to hug a large tree and continued on, "oh how i love the great mass production of trees!" all of the kids ran into the garden center cheering and swirling. within ten minutes we had picked out two trees, some garland, winter berries and a wreath.  five super nice home depot guys attached the largest tree to the roof, laughing as they did so.  they kept calling our tree, "big boy."  i, of course, stuck my head out the window and told the men we had just moved from georgia.  they laughed even harder.  "well, get ready for winter then, because it's a coming!" one guy said with a big smile.  we pulled away and they waved and genuinely wished us well.  we waved back, happy and laughing and satisfied we had had our little family adventure and we had, indeed, found the perfect christmas tree. 

so, what's this blog post really about?  what's the take away? what's the lesson learned? are we to forgo all adventure and instead keep it simple? keep it safe?  are we never to head out to the country or climb up on a wagon without first having a plan?  


you know i am not saying that -- not at all.

but i am going to suggest, sometimes you can climb yourself right into a little bit of an adventure and come back empty handed -- empty handed at first glance, that is. you may not accomplish what you set out to do, but you just may come home holding something else.  something unexpected.  maybe even something better.

a story.  some laughter. a moment.  a memory.  

and it doesn't get any more perfect than that.

the kids got their hot chocolate

and mommy got to photograph some great farms!

Friday, November 23, 2012

thanksgiving in our hearts

(from tuesday)...

i wonder if i'll ever be able to sit through one of bella's cardiology appointments and not tear up.  seriously.  i've just kind of accepted the fact that i wear waterproof - or no - mascara and bring tissues. lots of them.

i am always amazed.

i'll never forget the appointment back in atlanta, when her first pediatric cardiologist got choked up with emotion and began to quietly weep while explaining her story to a group of medical students there to observe.  from some things he had said at earlier visits, i was pretty sure this doctor wasn't a believer in Jesus.  but how could he not be?  how could he do what he did with such passion and love and brilliance, and not believe?  i wondered that so many times when we went in to visit him.  how could he look at what had been done in bella's heart,  how could he see the miracle from his trained medical eyes and not see the presence and power of God?

i'll never get that.
today we had our first appointment in minnesota.  okay, so that part was different.  different state, different hospital, different doctor, but i felt exactly the same watching the doctors study her echocardiogram results and look over her little body. (just about 30 lbs now!) tears were right there ready to bubble up and out except that bella kept things light.  she talked, almost nonstop, to the technician doing her echo, like they had been pals forever.  lying perfectly still, she watched cinderella and provided a running commentary on the film.  "those mice are getting into trouble...cinderella's dress is so beautiful...i don't like that cat with the ugly eyes...those mean girls tore cinderella's dress. why did they tear her dress, mama?..."  on an on, she chattered.  she was hooked up to that machine for over an hour and a half, but my girl never flinched.  never complained. never argued.

i was a little thrown off when i realized that the mayo clinic was a two hour drive from our house.  the clinic and this new cardiologist had come highly recommended, but i have to tell you, my practical side wondered if there wasn't a highly qualified doctor just a tad bit closer.  and as i drove passing nothing but cornfields and farms all the way from minneapolis to rochester, i continued to question my decision.  except we were going to the world renown mayo clinic - the best of the best, right?  i kept driving, wishing all the while i had at least brought my camera to snap some roadside photos of barns and silos (galore)!

once inside mayo, it didn't take long to realize it is a place as special as we'd heard. it just is.  i was so impressed with absolutely every facet.  everything felt friendly and accessible,  even the parking garage -- (is it is possible for a parking garage to feel friendly and accessible? yes, yes it is).  the medical personnel were exceptional.  the cardio technician who walked us from the waiting room to the echo lab jumped over patterns in the carpet with bella, pretending they were stones and the carpet a pit of hot lava.  by the time he had hooked her up to the machine, they were fast friends.

but even being inside the halls of this prestigious clinic wasn't exactly easy.  it's clear, really sick people come there for help. the corridors were bustling, like a busy mall on black friday.  between appointments, bella and i wandered down to the main atrium. an older man was playing the grand piano and singing well known hymns at the top of his lungs.  he had an audience of the seriously ill, the weak, the wasting.  the people leaning in and listening to him were in wheel chairs or hunched over in seats.  some held the hands of caretakers or family members.   some sat alone holding their pain and their tired with loose hands -- ready to let go soon.  at one point, bella climbed out of her stroller and began to weave through the crowd of patients.  she was sort of skipping and dancing to this man's music and i could see that she wanted to get closer to his piano.  i know she wanted to watch his fingers fly across the keys.  she is always curious.  i started after her, but let her go when i noticed the looks on the faces of these older, sicker, more somber men and women.  their mouths began to turn upward in tiny smiles...faces grew brighter...eyes followed bella around the room.  she had no idea how her dancing little body in striped leggings and purple dress was cheering up the scene.

and from there she continued to do her little four year old magic everywhere she went.  every room we went in.  every medical person we met.  every person we passed.  she had a smile or a wave or a funny comment for them all.  even the people on the various elevators.  at one point, i thought a man from one elevator ride might just get off at our floor and follow us down to cardiology.  that sounds creepy, but it wasn't.  just in the few minutes on that elevator this older gentleman clearly became enchanted with bella's joy.

okay, so this post, so far, sounds like a gloating mama.  perhaps.  but really what i am writing to say is that this tiny girl with her back pack and her bitty baby just didn't quite fit the scene.  she is the picture of health.  and yet, we all know she's got this incredibly complex heart inside her.  a heart which i have no control over.  i can't tidy it up or deck it out with a pretty bow.  i can't tell it to behave or keep it in line.  it is what it is.  and today we were heading into a series of appointments to hear more about what the future looked like for bella's little heart.   we knew that a second surgery for bella was going to be necessary.  what they were able to do in china 2 1/2 years ago, was amazing and wonderful, but another surgery was absolutely on the horizon.  we were here today to see just how close that horizon might be.  back in atlanta, our cardiologist was thinking it might be sooner than originally thought.  today we were to find out what the professionals at mayo thought.  we were going to hear what a new cardiologist had to say.

bella was born with VSD (a hole in her heart), pulmonary stenosis (a narrowing of the pulmonary valve) and transposition (her main arteries are switched/transposed). pretty big stuff for such a tiny little girl.  in july of 2009, she had major heart surgery in china, the very same month we found her file and began her adoption. needless to say, bella's heart looks different from yours and mine. she's got this crazy little tunnel right through the center, her wiring is kind of flip flopped, and, at this point, she doesn't have a pulmonary valve.  (that's what she'll need in a future surgery). to top it off,  she even has part of a cow's peracardium inside her, not many of us can boast that!  confusing isn't it?  and remember, i am the mama who struggles to find bandaids and tylenol.  how many times have i sat in different doctor's offices hearing them explain the intricacies of her heart and been overwhelmed.  each time! every time!  i am always overwhelmed by what they are saying and i am even more overwhelmed by what God has been busy doing!  it is all way beyond me...way beyond my comprehension.  but that's they way it goes with God sometimes, doesn't it? He works in ways beyond what we can even imagine or understand.

so here we were today --- an almost two hour echocardiogram and consult appointment and then off to another meeting with our new cardiologist, dr. chabalka.  all of it smooth and amazing.  all of it top notch.   but even as great as it was going, i began to feel a bit anxious as i watched the technician's ultra sound screen.  i could tell that there was an awful lot of blue and red color exploding on his black screen.  i knew from previous appointments, that was leakage. and it worried me.

our long day ended sitting in dr. cabalka's office.  she was wonderful with bella, taking the time to ask a whole lot of questions that didn't seem to be pertinent to her heart, but were evidence she wanted to know more about bella and our family.  she wanted the whole picture.  bella danced around the room, up and down from the examining table, a pigtailed ball of energy, a really wound up four year old. finally, i scooped her onto my lap and in less than two minutes she was sound asleep -- completely conked out from her big day.  the bounce and chatter and enchantment all finally quiet.  the doctor and i continued to talk.  i learned that she is not only a believer, but that she had also spent a good deal of time in china.  she has a soft spot in her own heart for chinese kids with CHD.  just last month she was in nepal with a medical mission's team working on children with heart disease.   we could have talked for hours.  she told me a lot about bella's heart, making it clear for my medically challenged brain.  the best thing she told me was that it looked like bella's next heart surgery could be pushed off until maybe even double digits.  there are no guarantees, but she really felt like bella was doing exceptionally well and all that leakage in the ultra sound was okay. she wasn't worried about it.  her heart may be functioning a little differently than most people's, but it was working well and, in its own way, it was giving her everything she needed.  dr. chalbalka said, "let's get this gal a little bigger and stronger before we attempt to go back into that amazing heart of hers."  it was a big day filled with big things, but that news was the biggest and best part of all those hours:  we have time.  maybe even more time than we originally thought walking in today.  

we drove home from mayo at the edge of dark, passing those same barns and silos now shadows against the red of western sky.  bella, half asleep in the backseat and me, driving, praying, thinking and thanking.   tomorrow we would prepare for thanksgiving -- just two days away.  preparing our food.  preparing our table.  preparing our hearts. 

but tonight, giving thanks for today.  

thanksgiving came a couple days early. 

            "i will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; 
 i will recount all of your wonderful deeds." 
~ psalm 9:1 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

here and home

i’m not sure what they’re still doing here.  it’s clearly time to move on. time to head out. by all means, time to fly south.  we’ve had our first snowfall (sort of) and several nights now with temperatures in the teens.  we’ve had flakes.  we’ve had frost.  we’ve had some really, really freezing days (at least in my southern opinion).  clearly, these canadian geese are confused.  

they should have left by now.  

but every day this week, they’ve stopped by in our backyard. when they showed up the third day, i ran down with my camera, snapping pictures and yelling, “go on south, you crazy, old birds.”  crazy, old birds or crazy, old woman?  i am pretty sure any neighbor watching me yell and run and snap pictures, would have had his own opinion that morning.

it’s not the way it’s supposed to be though.
they don’t belong here. at least not now.  not for these next many months.  
but still, they sit.  and swim.  and waddle around making a mess along the lakeshore. and i watch them from my window, high on the hill, and think, “what gives, you silly geese? what in the world are you waiting for”

but truly, i get it.  i wonder sometimes what in the world we are still doing here.  in this north country, with cold winter on its way.  the temperatures drop and the reality sets in:  we’ve moved.  we’ve had our little northern adventure and we are.  sitting.  not swimming exactly.  but waddling around making our messes. our own gaggle of geese.  and a part of me thinks perhaps these canadian birds are kind of hanging around,  knowing there’s another who lives high on this hill.  another strange bird, who, on occasion, wants to fly south herself.  at least some days she does.  

we’ve all had those "somedays" -- that moment when we just want to head home, to return to what's normal and well known. my oldest daughter, did exactly that two weeks ago.  she flew back to atlanta for a church retreat and a couple of days with her dearest friends.  it was a wonderful weekend.  i have to admit though, i was a little worried she might not get back on that plane returning north to minnesota at the end of her weekend. but she did.   not without some confusion on her own part though.  just before boarding, she tweeted  (the bird theme continues) on twitter, “heading home.  but really, where is home?”  kind of philosophical for a 16 year old, wouldn’t  you say?  

but it is a question we’ve all asked ourselves with this move.  

where is home?

north. south. east. west.  

somedays we seem to be moving in all directions. literally.  figuratively. we’re torn.

when emily arrived back in minnesota that sunday night after her weekend in atlanta, i told her i had seen her twitter post.  she immediately jumped in defensively and said, “i know what you’re going to say, mom.”  and she was right.  i went on to remind her, “home is where our family is....home is where the heart is.”  and right now, we are here and this is home.  we might feel a little bit like those confused geese hanging out a tad too long. maybe we are strangely in need of some crazy, old woman to come running down the hill at us too. a woman yelling loudly.  shaking our shoulders.  getting our attention. pointing us in the right direction.  but, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve landed. we are here.  and this is what God has given us, at least for now. how sad to call it anything else, but home.

i’ve always known, it will be what we make it.  i haven’t done a perfect job creating this new nest for my family.  Lord knows, i’ve struggled.  it's obvious to anyone watching right now, this hasn’t been easy.  i had really good intentions all along.  the first week in this house i hung pictures and put out our things.  i painted a wall and arranged bedrooms and lit candles.  i did everything a woman could do to knit together her nest.  at the end of that first week, while sitting on the front steps of the porch,  i happened to  look up and notice a nest, stuffed bird-like into the corner of gutter and eaves.  empty, but telling.  i kind of rolled my eyes at God.  oh Lord, you just won’t leave me alone, will you?  even in that first week, He was reminding me to prepare this place and help my family settle in ... to help us all learn to call it home.  even now in november, the nest is still there.  we’ve peeked in from time to time, just to be sure.  it remains empty, but continues to tell.  continues to remind.  continues to assure -- this is home.  

                               “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this 
world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that 
I was made for another world”  c.s. lewis

and yet even in our earthly confusion between the north and the south,  we know there’s another stopping place.  a place where we really belong.  we get that even now, in the middle of this very temporal earth.  heaven waits.  and heaven, ultimately, is home.  our true home. i’m not at all in any rush, but i have to tell you, i am certain it will be the place where i won’t have to wonder.   you may not have moved to minnesota, but surely you too, have felt exactly that.  at some point or another, you’ve told yourself, i don’t belong here...or there’s something more...or, i don’t quite fit in.  you, too,  have felt like a foreigner.  even if we are stable and content and completely sane, we still have those feelings of this isn’t forever.  this isn’t final.  i know God has put in me the desire for something beyond where i am.  for those of us that love Him, He has even promised that He goes, "to prepare a place..." (john 14:2).

the truth is, we don't know when God will choose to call us home.  just in these past couple of weeks, two different families we knew back in atlanta have unexpectedly had to say good-bye to their young daughters.  these girls in the prime of their youth, both right around the age of 20.  one with a chronic illness and one with a contracted illness, but, both, taking an unexpected  turn for the worse.  such heartbreak for these two families from our church and community. such incredible loss.  and though i cannot begin to imagine the grief, these girls are, without doubt, finally home.

i guess sometimes in our human-ness,  we can be an awful lot like silly geese with little direction and a strange sense of time.  thankfully, we are not left to waddle around on our own.  thankfully, we are not ultimately in control.  God has a plan. He has a purpose.  and, what's more, He has promised a place for us.  He knows where we are and He knows the time when we'll leave. His timing is sure and certain and always, always perfect.  and oh how He wants us to trust Him in our present and trust Him with our future.  

wherever we call home, we first, are called His.  

we are His here (wherever "here" may be)... 

and we will be His, when He someday, calls us home to heaven.

 "but our citizenship is in heaven. and we eagerly 
await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." 
 ~ philippians 3:20

Sunday, November 11, 2012

amazing girls

if you happened to be in st. paul minnesota last wednesday night, you might have noticed  a couple hundred girls or so, walking around in beautiful dresses and high heels.  easily, you could have mistaken them for a bunch of runway models.  these girls... all dressed up:  hair curled and eyeliner carefully applied.  stunningly beautiful in their high school high youth.  "just some pretty girls in pretty dresses," you might have thought. nothing more.

but you would have been wrong.

there was more.

there is more.

if you happened to peek into the ballroom of the crown plaza hotel that same night, you would have seen a banquet taking place and you would have heard a whole lot about these young ladies and their accomplishments.  you might have heard about these 24 teams who were all sectional champs and about to begin play in the state tournament the next day.  single A teams,  double A teams and triple A teams.  you would have heard about the talented all-state tournament team and the ms. minnesota volleyball award.  you would have listened to the coach of the year presentation and you would have quickly realized this was a room filled with not just some cute girls teetering around in high heels, but this was a room full of athletes.  (not that walking in high heels isn't a highly athletic accomplishment, mind you)...

and by thursday these lovely girls would all trade out their dress up things for volleyball jerseys, knee pads and pony tails.  the heels put away and the real girls ready to go. wednesday night was exciting, but thursday the real deal began. the fancy stuff was fun, but this was really who these girls were -- athletes, ready and eager to compete.  ready to embrace this final step in a season of winning.  in a season which started back in the heat of july and was still going strong here in november.  every day practices...every day sacrifices.  these girls who have been juggling schedules and missing family dinners and going to bed late for the love of volleyball.   there have been weeks in this season where we hardly laid eyes on our emily.  she'd come in late and leave early, her volleyball bag swinging from her shoulder at each entrance and exit.  every load of laundry seemed to include a jersey or athletic socks or some spandex shorts.  three full months of volleyball with a little bit of life thrown in on the side.

and here these girls were, at the end of the rainbow. the state tournament.  the pot of gold.  and if you had sat in the xcel energy arena on thursday or friday or saturday you'd have seen these amazing girls play some amazing volleyball.   i don't have to tell you, but you would have been incredibly impressed by the athletic action out on center court.  you'd have been surprised at just how high these girls jump and how hard these girls hit. you would have found yourself cheering and completely caught up in the sweat and the tears and the triumph of these young ladies.  it was an incredible three days.  days these girls (and their parents) will not quickly forget.  how many high school athletes get to compete in a state tournament?  the best of the best.

and so those girls in pretty dresses were only part of the story.  you'd have been wrong stopping with a mere first impression, a hasty assumption, on wednesday night.  you would have had to come on in and listen and hear and watch and really see -- there was so much more.

but here's the deal:  this same thing is true in watching them out on the court.  it is easy to just see these girls as talented athletes and forget there's more to the story.  it would be easy to find yourself thinking, wow, they all got an extra dose of good fortune and a few extra inches.  how fun for them to have (super) fans cheering loudly and calling their names enthusiastically -- chanting encouragement and singing their praise.  aren't they lucky?  isn't life good?  how great for them in their jerseys and medals and in their high school fame.

but still.  the story doesn't end here either.

these girls are, indeed, athletes.  but, the truth is,  they each have a story.  a story which goes far beyond what happens on that court in the season or even at the tournament in the state capitol.  each day, these girls trade out their jerseys for real life.  and real life has hit my daughter's team especially hard this past year.   i have mentioned some of this in previous blog posts; the loss of a brother, the loss of a father, the loss of the head coach's sister -- the raw stories of pain behind this sweet story of victory.  one girl wears a black headband each game with the initials  JL on it --  the initials of her brother who died this spring.  and this season, the team shirts bear the phrase, "be amazing."  these were the constant words of one girl's dad.  the father who died of a sudden heart attack just a week before the season began this year. 

our local news picked up on what made this little christian school team from chaska, minnesota different.  they picked up on why this state tournament was big and yet, so bittersweet.  i am attaching a link below to tell more of the story.  because that is it.  what we see in our glancing is not always what it is in the game.  there's often something more.  something so much more.  wednesday night at that banquet, i sat between my two new friends,  the mother who lost her son and the woman who lost her husband this year.  we rejoiced in the sweet opportunity for our girls that night, but everyone at the table of this team was fully aware of just why this night was so wonderful and so hard all at once.

cbs news link:
HS Volleyball Team Overcomes Loss Of Superfan, Stays ‘Amazing’ « CBS Minnesota

these girls,  these athletes, whether in pretty dresses or sweaty jerseys, have stories.  and when we cheer them on, we are cheering them through so much more than just the points on the scoreboard.  and this was just our team.  without doubt, there were others.  other girls on other teams handling other hard stuff.  girls going through divorce or depression or some kind of personal devastation.  other girls who got out on the center court this week with so much more to their story than just their athleticism and their win-loss record.

"so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in 
a crooked and depraved generation,
 in which you shine like stars in the universe." (philippians 2:15)

this is the southwest school verse and we are the southwest christian stars.  these girls are definitely stars in my book.  they are stars in their abilities and in their accomplishments.  they are stars in their attitudes and actions. they are stars in persevering through the tough, hard, ugly places of life and continuing to shine for God's glory.  that's the real story behind this story --  God's glory. His praise. His fame.  and each of these girls is quick to give all of this good right back to Him --  God, the giver of all gifts.

our team didn't win the state title yesterday.  after a day of tough, point by point, battle, the girls ended in second place. sure there was disappointment.  sure there were some tears.  but these girls walked out of that downtown arena with heads held high and i don't have to tell you, but, in my book, they are first place girls all the way!

their team motto this season was "be amazing."

and they were.

and they are.

go stars!

2nd place medals -- 1st place girls.
the girls praying with the team who beat them in the championship match -- unbelievable!

Monday, November 5, 2012

winter is coming

ask my kids what they are most excited about at the moment, and they will all, without any hesitation, answer:  SNOW!  we have five southern raised children living under our minnesota roof right now and each one of them is dreaming of that fluffy white stuff, those slippery sloping sled rides, frozen snow forts and, of course, a few full-throttle snowball fights.  whether it be snow flakes, angels or men, visions do dance in the eager heads of my warm-blooded brood. they just cannot wait. 

last night, two of them came into the kitchen in full gear:  snow jackets, snow pants, snow boots, snow hats and snow gloves. in their 20 below zero wear, they waddled around the island like two puffed up penguins.  there wasn't the hint of a flake in our forecast, but they wanted to try on all their new gear and model for the rest of the family.  for the past couple of weeks, like an alarm-ready fireman, connor has had his snow pants , jacket and boots all set up and displayed in his room, prepared and waiting for that first snowfall when he plans to jump out of bed and into his winter things. i assure you, he’ll waste no time.

some of you laugh.

some of you shake your heads and wonder what's all the fuss.

some of you whisper under your breath, "oh, honey, you just wait and see."

and then some of you smile and say, "YES!"

let's face it, we all have different reactions to big snow.  i get that.  but i'm telling you, it will be just like christmas morning when the first snow finally shows up.  we had a scant number of flakes twirl down two weeks ago and even that meager amount caused the 16 year old to dash to our front window.  with her nose pressed up against the glass, she exclaimed, "look, mom, it's snowing!" (it really wasn't...just a few flakes, but i shared her excitement anyway).

my 7th grader, sarah, was in school when those same first few flakes fell.  in the middle of class, her history teacher, sensing her giddiness, told her to go stand outside for a few minutes and enjoy them.  sarah, who ran out willingly (and jacket-less), proceeded to jump up and down outside the classroom window while the born-and-raised minnesota children watched her like an exotic bird at the zoo.  they laughed.  they marveled too. as hard as it is for sarah to imagine snow, these children can't imagine it being this novel...this new.  oh the wonder of it all. 

my boys have already begun clearing a path from the top of our back hill to the lake.  right over the browning bushes and shrubs,  right over the hillside landscape they will go.  they have great plans for the best sledding hill this side of lake minnetonka.  at the rate they are moving, we will, indeed, have some superb sledding behind our house this winter. 

last weekend, rick went out and bought them all sleds.  no one was asking (yet).  he just did it. those waiting sleds are now stacked in the garage. the dad who goes early to work each day in a suit and tie, who pays the bills and manages the family, well, he’s excited too. 

i, in typical mother fashion, am wondering about the house's best entrance and exit points
in order to minimize wet floors and slush covered surfaces. but truly, this mama can't wait either.  i've purchased the extra large hot chocolate cannister and am taking note of our firewood supply this week.  there's extra cookie dough in the cupboard and last night i organized our entire basket of gloves, hats and scarves -- somehow, even coming from georgia, we have enough now to clothe a small army.

and still some of you shake your head and whisper, but, jody, what about the slippery roads and freezing temperatures?  what about that layer of ice on the windshields?" what about rock salt and dead car batteries?  what about the shoveling out and the being shut in? what about the pain of frozen finger tips and the drip of bright red noses? extra laundry and enormous heating bills?  soggy socks and frozen locks? dripping dog and snow-buried newspaper?  what about that, jody mcnatt?  

i know. 

you have some valid points there.  it's not going to be all sled rides and hot chocolate.  there will be some challenges in this new, colder frontier.  i am well aware.  my kids may only have experienced the mild winter of the south, but i grew up in northern ohio (smack dab in the snow belt, mind you)!  it’s been close to 15 years since i’ve lived in this kind of climate.

but, i remember.  

i remember driving to high school with chains on my tires and sandbags in my trunk.  i remember once, on the way to school, i slid right off the road and into a stop sign at the front entrance of our neighborhood.  and much to my younger sister’s dismay, i turned around, went right back home and climbed back into my bed.  i remember the feeling of snow in my boots and the morning when my little red saab wouldn’t start.  i remember bundling babies and pushing cold metal carts through the frozen slush of grocery store parking lots.   i remember black ice and grey skies and the blinding white of sunlight on snow.

there are two sides, aren’t there? that’s it.  that’s pretty much all of life.  two sides to every coin.  but the question is:  how are we going to view it? how are we going to choose to view it?  a lot depends on if we’re that 9 year old boy with new snow boots and a waiting sled to ride.  i’m not really suggesting that we all need to behave like children, but i do think it’s probably good for us to check our perspective every once in a while.  i know i have to do that. a lot.  i could fret and fuss over the wet floors which are coming, but, honestly, i’d like to be a little more like my 7th grade daughter, sarah, who stood outside the classroom window jumping up and down.  sometimes it’s a choice.  

i keep hearing that minnesotans don’t hunker down, they toughen up.  they prepare well and they push forward.  i know sometimes the stereotypes show lots of casseroles cooking and indoor crafts occurring...(and that’s perfectly okay with me)...but i’ve been around these people for several months now.  i’m already impressed.  and i think i’m about to become more impressed with their spirit of survival, their spirit of embracing what comes, their spirit of choosing.  we have a responsibility to be prepared -- no doubt about it.  but don't we also have a responsibility to have a little perspective?  maybe even a responsibility to be positive? -- to work with what we have and maybe even with where we are ... to look for the silver lining, to find the buried blessing?  and maybe, even like a young boy with a sled and new pair of snow boots, to choose joy in the midst of life's cold?

winter is coming.  

the snow, on its way.

the boots and sleds and mittens are waiting.

the choice is at hand.  it always is -- wherever you live.  whatever the climate.  

"what good is the warmth of summer,
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” 
 ~ john steinbeck

“winter is not a season, it's an occupation.”  ~ sinclair lewis