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Winter is for…

“Winter is about Innovation.” So said a slogan I saw at work recently. It sounds sloganish. The company was selling new winter sports gear, from shoes to skis to sunglasses. But it made me think. The past couple years I have been thinking a lot about winter. A few friends recently moved to places where winter is stronger than it is in Colorado. And it is hard for them to cope for long weeks of too-cold air and too-grey skies. So we’ve been brainstorming ways to embrace what winter has to offer, or at least to dress it up so that it is not quite so distractingly dreary.

Winter is for innovation. It is easy to think of the things you can’t do during winter. You can’t take long walks. You can’t grow a garden. You can’t go swimming. You can’t play soccer in the park. Amusement parks are closed. Sometimes the snow is so bad that it makes driving dangerous. You can’t leave the windows open all day. You can’t go barefoot. And during the season when we can do all those things, it makes sense to soak them up and not waste the time doing other things.
Winter is for innovation. A farmer has just brought in his harvest. He can start to evaluate whether the crops he planted are what he and his family needs. How did the planting, tending, and picking go? What could he do better next year?
A mom considers her family. They’re growing. What parts of their strengths and weaknesses were revealed in the freer times of summer: from play, from reading, from industry, from strife? How can they work on these things?
Now that the warmer months are over, it is fine to turn on ovens and to slow-cook things. How could a kitchen be more efficient? What simple tools could be added? How can the experience of cooking support the values of the cook, like friends or including children, or listening to podcasts?
Are there craft projects that you’ve been meaning to try? Research on your next car or appliance? Résumés to write? Friends to catch up with? Books to read?
I have one friend who loves New Year’s resolutions. They haven’t been my thing in the past, but I am starting to think that maybe they are an appropriate way to face the winter. Winter can be a time of reflection, recuperation, goal-making, and also, innovation.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Love.

On the surface you think it makes sense.  You love someone because you click, or because it’s convenient, or because they love you.  And you do the things that go with love: you spend time, you give things, you make sacrifices.  But then time goes by and it’s become something else, too…

It isn’t that you’re lost in it; you become something else, maybe.  You go through seasons when you can’t remember any of the reasons.  You feel like you don’t have anything in common. You feel like so much of your relationship has been you hurting the other person, and you can’t take those things back, and maybe all the other love-things weren’t worth it.  You can’t think of anything about the person that inspires you – you can’t even bring to mind things that used to inspire you.

But in the middle of all that – and you feel like you’re drowning, feel like you’ve been crazy to have ever thought differently – in the middle of it, you realize there’s still love.  It’s there with a pulse, abiding even when you have nothing to feed it, no reason to believe in it. And it’s hard to even define what it is that’s present that we name love, but you know it is love.

Opportunities come, and they’re wrenching ones, to see some things that this love does.  The person you love gets sick and you’re surprised that all you can think about is rushing over to hold the puke bucket and rub their back.  Or you’re half awake but the first thing you think about is whether they’re ok. You hear them say that they don’t feel loved, don’t believe they’re lovable – and sometimes they don’t even say it, you just find it out – but you get the sensation that you were made for this: to prove that someone is loved, and you want to prove it with everything you have and are and do.  Or they’re in such a dark place spiritually and you can’t stop praying, and the only things you can pray are that God will rescue them.

There are border-lands of this feeling, where you’re conscious of some reasons, where you enjoy loving them, even though it’s still hazy.  You’re not sure what you’re dealing with, so you’re not sure how to act, but love isn’t about figuring everything out and making a plan.

But you know you’re in this state where whether you get anything out of it or not, whether it seems successful or not, whether there’s hope for things to be better ever again.

Or.

Not.

Youknow that none of those things will change the fact that you care about them more than you care about yourself.

It doesn’t mean that your life will end up entwined with theirs, nor that you’ll be asas significant to them.  It just means that love doesn’t go away. You can choose to start loving; you might be able to choose to quit loving; I don’t know.  I do believe, though, that you can’t just fade out of loving a person. Once you’ve invited it, it’s there.

You can still do the not-loving things.  Your love can be weak or it can be caged by all sorts of other feelings and choices – but if it is, you’re going to be miserable, because the love will still be aching inside you.

It’s like a miracle, like begetting children: you do contribute, but you’re not doing it.  You haven’t a clue where to begin to create love, and you’re not powerful enough to do it if you did.  It’s a grace. God gives it.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A couple years ago, a friend asked me to compile things I’d learned about keeping preschoolers busy.  I’ve been babysitting for about 20 years now, but I was still surprised at all the things I was able to write down.  I’m sharing them here in case you are looking for inspiration.  

 

Have a ball or object that you pass back and forth.  Before you pass, you have to say something in a list: a number, a letter, a color, a musical instrument, something they’re thankful for, a song, a toy, a character from a movie, something you can see, a sport, a type of transportation (cars, planes, trains…), an animal…  You get the idea.  You can practice saying a rhyme, verse, song by passing the ball back and forth and each person has to say the next word before they pass it.  Teach the game using a saying, song or rhyme they already know.

 

Set up a tricky way to pass some object to each other: around a chair, under a table, down a blanket like a slide.

 

Do simple games where there are two or three things they’re supposed to act out, and they must switch when you say the other thing: butterflies and caterpillars; land, water, sky; hills, mountains, plains/fields; (incorporate it into a story or lesson: grasshoppers and giants like the 12 spies’ perception when they spied out canaan);

 

Have a collection of objects.  Name them all together.  Cover the kids’ eyes.  Take one object away.  Have them guess/figure out which one is missing.  Play again with a different missing object.

 

You can do all sorts of things with a deck of cards, things for all ages.  For littles: 52 pickup; cards that are red; cards that are black; cards with faces; cards with numbers; hand them one card and tell them to find one whose shape, color, or number matches; have them practice counting by bringing you whatever amount of cards you say (you’ll probably have to help them count).  Lay numbers in order.  You can lay the foundations for odds/evens, addition, subtraction, division.  I’ve had older kids bring me cards adding up to a certain number – or just an odd number.

 

Train to be listening: have a code word for the day.  Any time the child hears you say it, they come to you and either get something (cracker, M&M) or do something (high five, hug).

 

Bat a balloon or roll a ball across a line, no picking up.  Also try kicking.  (Pre-soccer skill.)

 

Have kids try to stand on one foot without holding on to anything.  Count as high as you can, out loud, until they put their foot down or touch something.  Now have them do it while doing something else, like singing a song or patting their head or watching you do something silly.

 

With more than one child, instead of “tag”, do “bubbles” and “poppers”.  Tag is too abstract.  Tell them that once they have popped, they switch roles.  This works even if you want a number of kids who are “it”.  In my experience, kids won’t really switch; they’ll just pick their favorite role, keep doing that, and most kids will be ok with that.  The others will try to debate with fellow toddlers.  It’s kind of hilarious.

 

Have them balance something on their head.  Then have them walk, or sit down and stand up again (depending on how hard the balancing is).

 

Set up a bucket or bag (or two for two teams; you can compete, too).  Have the child fill up the bag, bringing only one object at a time.  (Use toys, socks, cereal if it’s a snack-size bowl.)  Just make sure the container is rather far away from the objects, so that the kid is using up a bunch of energy.

 

Have the child echo patterns of sounds or actions.  Start small.  Clap, stomp, make some noise, wave…

 

Streamers are super fun and cheap.  Wave them.  Use them as finish-lines.  Use them as lines to “balance” on.  Or to divide a room.  Or as a maze line to follow on a treasure hunt.  Pull off a strip and do something with both you and the child holding on.  If you let go or tear it, you have to start over.

 

Teach more basics of soccer.  But break it up.  Try not to put too many rules together all at once.  Have the child try to get a ball past you to a specific wall or basket (using hands or feet or whatever – just can’t be holding on to the ball).  Trade places and have them keep you from getting the ball past them.

 

“Is it the truth?”  While you’re playing, make statements whose truth or falsehood is obvious.  If it is true, the child stands up.  If false, they sit down.  Or have them do some other fun action.  If it’s true, they jump up and down…  If it’s true, they spin in circles.  They just have to switch once they hear the next statement.

 

This one is from a book called “Let’s Play!” that’s decent for ideas.  It’s for a group, not just one child.  Form pairs and give these directions: “touch feet” (kids touch their feet to each other’s), “touch wings” (touch elbows like wings), “tweet to your partner”.  Then call out “scatter sparrows!”  The children flap like sparrows, tweet like sparrows, while they’re either 1) scattering and finding a new partner or 2) scattering, then listening for your call to “touch feet” again when they must find a new partner.

 

Set up an easy obstacle course… line up objects in one straight line with several feet between each object.  Have the child weave in and out between the objects.

 

“Bowl” with whatever objects are on hand: cups, books, toys

 

Pretend you’re in a parade.  March.  Wave.  Bring a stuffed animal or balloon.  (Ever seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on TV?)  Stay in line and take a tour of whatever place you’re at, all in parade mode.  You can even stop at an opportune spot and do a performance.  Make sure to pretend you have a microphone if you’re singing!

 

Use a paper plate as a Frisbee.

 

Put small stuffed animals or soft balls (cotton balls, q-tips, other soft small objects you have are fine; raid your purse) on a large blanket or sheet (larger keeps the things on it better, but if there are only 2 of you, it will have to be smaller so you can hold it.)  You hold one side.  They hold the other.  Then wave it to see them pop.

 

Use a ribbon, streamer, jump-rope, narrowly-folded blanket to make a “river” in the middle of the floor.  Jump over the river.  Throw something over the river.  “Swim” under the river.

 

Play hot potato.

 

Go to sleep bunny, bunny.  Say that.  Have the child pretend to be a sleeping bunny.  When you think they won’t be able to “sleep” anymore, call “wake up, little bunny! hop, hop, hop!”  They have to get up and hop until you say to sleep again.

 

Again from Let’s Play!: Give the child an object they can toss in the air.  Tell the story of Jesus calming the sea.  Then play the game like this: when you say “Storm!” they toss their object up, over and over.  When you say “Be still!”, they must grab their object from wherever it is and sit down quietly.

 

Have a bunch of something: crumpled up junk mail, socks, paper airplanes, little balls like in a play-place (soft!).  Split them up evenly.  Make a line out of a streamer, couch cushions, tape in the middle of the room.  Put half of the objects on one side, half on the other.  Half of the children stand on each side (or you on one side, the child/children on the other).  Turn on a song.  While the music is playing, each of you throws as many of the things over the line as possible, even the new things just thrown over your line.  At the end of the song, the side with the *least* objects wins.

 

Teach hand signals for sports teams, like the referrees would use (I had to look up on the internet how to do these).  Show them.  Say it.  Have the kids do the motions, and say the phrases, too.  My favorite about this was that for soccer instead of any signals, I just have the kids put their hands in the air and run around like madmen yelling “SCORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  They like that, too.

 

Be active: gallop, toe-touch, jumping jacks, spin.

 

Set up items with only 1 letter on them in different parts of the room.  These could be posters you make or those little blocks with letters on them.  You probably only want to do a few letters at a time.  Call out the letter and have the child hurry to go touch it.  After they’re good at that, teach them one of the sounds the letter makes, and have them remember or repeat the sound before they can leave and go to another letter.

 

Since I was doing Awana, I taught the Cubbies how to stand with their toes behind a line.  I’d have them run, then say, “Line,” and they had to all get behind the line, not even touching it, quickly.

 

Take a walk and announce a color.  Say the names of things you see that are that color.  Encourage the child to participate.  The next time you take a walk, choose a different color.  It’s not guessing one item; it’s just identifying.  It’s like a preliminary to I-spy.

 

Kids love bubbles.  Blow bubbles for them.  See if they can catch them without them popping.  See if they can guess where they’ll land.   You can also try to catch leaves blown from trees in the autumn.

 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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My brother and I were talking tonight, about a painting I saw, called “The Peacemaker”.  Peacemaking seems to me to be an art that is rare, one that I am unfamiliar with, and that when my friends and I pursue it, we’re begging God to lead us in, because we’re clueless.  We’re making these things up as we go, having few examples to follow.

I want to learn about peacemaking. I want to help heal breaches, but also, I think, God wants me to wield peace against lies and hatred and despair and loneliness – to make peace strong and alive. There is this picture in my head from the stories I’ve been reading, of grape vines invading things with life, and winding around them, and binding them together, and making them strong as a defense against that which would break us.

Tonight I’m working at these words, but they aren’t capturing how excited this idea is burning me, how even trying to ponder the words to use is deepening the picture, and grabbing at parts of me I wasn’t sure were connected.  But they are.  They remind me of a time this past year when my identity and calling seemed to be clarifying:

“I like people, a lot, and I love to find out who they are.  I want to help them to know what God is doing in their lives, and also to help them walk in those things by faith.  I’m especially interested in helping them to persevere in hope and faith; to love others and pursue unity; and to live church as a sort of radical, God-empowered inter-dependent family.”

Because I don’t believe that, when God saves us, He turns us only into evangelism machines.  He gives us back the abundant life that was His idea with humans in the first place.  We become the light set in the lampstand that won’t be hidden.  Our lives have fruitful, governing purpose in this world, and, God help me, I want to live it wildly well.

Our world needs this.  The weapons of division, of hatred, of bitterness, of classifying people as hopeless and other, are damaging nations, families, God’s church.

The darkness, though, it has a lot of work to do, to hack at a many-corded strand that is already plaited.  It has a lot to do to dim the glory of the good works God has ordained for His people.  It fights weakly against the strength of truth and love, chosen and held up and uncompromised.  Evil gives up ground to the fruitfulness of a people zealous for good works, abiding in the Christ whose we are.  It bows in the face of self-sacrifice purchasing reconciliation through forgiveness.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Today I was thinking about heroes.  So often our favorite super heroes can save everyone.  Doc Ock tosses six different people six different directions, and destroys the brakes on a speeding train.  Spider-Man shoots his webs to save the stragglers, uses his super strength to stop the train, and saves the day.

In that same movie, Spider-Man decides to come out of retirement to save a little kid from a fire, and is disheartened to hear afterwards that some “poor soul” on a higher floor didn’t make it out.  But this isn’t shown as an inevitable edge to the protagonist’s reach; I get the impression that we’re supposed to believe that if only Spidey hadn’t been taking some time for himself, both victims would have made it out alive.

Sometimes the crisis of the plot is the hero deciding whether to save one dear friend or to save a larger group of people (and somehow, predictably now, the dear friend  heroically sacrificed is saved in the nick of time anyway).  Other times, the super hero makes a glance at the crushing weight of collateral damage: fighting evil is a destructive war.

How often do the heroes in our tales face the fact that their powers are, however impressive, limited, and they cannot save everyone?  What if we saw heroes not only facing this, grieving this, but standing slowly – like a weight-lifter, only the weight is borne in the heart, bending shoulders –  standing, straightening, squaring those shoulders, and going out with all the zeal they had yesterday, to save the ones they can, to face defeat again and again, to still care about every one they can’t save the same as they care about the ones they can, and still to try?

Today I was driving to an abortion clinic, to stand outside among such heroes, who spend day after day watching most of the moms they encounter go right on ahead and end most of the lives the sidewalk counselors are trying to save.  This is a heavy burden.

It is not all discouraging failure.  Yesterday, a couple changed their mind, and rejected the violence they had intended.  Would Spider-Man bear up against those odds: one rescued for dozens lost?  These people do.  By the grace of God, they are real heroes.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I guess God wants me to be thinking about these things.  On Saturday I was at a prayer meeting for a friend headed off to Africa on a three month mission trip.  Another prayer warrior present told me afterwards that one of his pastors has been in Nigeria for a few days, where the gospel was preached.  The report is that 150,000 people came forward to be saved by the blood of Jesus.  Numbers like that blow my mind.  I’ll admit, however hopeful I am, I’m skeptical.  But what if God really is moving in places like India and Africa?  What if the people in closed Muslim nations really are dreaming dreams about Jesus and running across Bibles and meeting people who will quietly preach the truth to them?

The man told me something else about Nigeria.  He said that in eight days, they witnessed two people raised from the dead.  The first was being carried, four days, by his father, to the evangelists.  By the time the child reached them, he was dead.  But the team of preachers prayed anyway, and the child came back to life.  Hearing that, another person attending the revival went and got his son from the morgue.  He’d died of a bullet wound in his chest.  They prayed for him, and he is alive now, too.

What would have happened if there had been no hope in those evangelists for the impossible?  What if, believing death to be God’s final answer, everyone had behaved rationally and ignored the impossible?  How often do I fail to even consider asking God for a miracle?

These reports are third or fourth or even fifth hand.  But I think it’s hard to confuse whether someone was dead and is now alive.  And why would you lie about things like that?  Still, my American rationalism, my lack of experience with supernatural things, pushes hard against reports about miracles.  Should I believe it?  What does it mean for me anyway?

My story isn’t over…  A few hours after that Saturday meeting (probably early on Sunday), a good friend was encouraging me that the Spirit of God is moving – an admonition to keep crying out to see Him move here, in the world around me.  My friend said that there are a group of church-planting pastors in India who prayed for someone and saw them brought back from the dead as well.  I hadn’t shared what I’d just heard from someone else.  So.

Two sources.

Two countries.

Three resurrections I heard about,

in one day.

And the time is coming, in less than a week now, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  We remember that He has all authority, and has given power to us, through His Holy Spirit.  We have hope that even death that lasts for decades is not forever for those who believe.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Flax flowers, tall and green crowned with sky-blue petals bend beneath the water falling on them, stooped double, dripping and dreary under a summer sky shrouded in grey.  Am I made for such a world where the beauty bows to necessity, where death is such a threat that the glorious sun must be cloaked, life furled?

I wish I had made these observations while on a walk, but I was driving.  My car was pulling out of my driveway to carry me to the paces just outside of where babies die.  The heart of me resisted, catching its hands on trees and fence-posts, loathe to leave them behind.  A few yards down is a rose garden, and in my mind I shrank…
Paradise.  Shadows and breezes, still and soft and just enough to shed the perfume of the roses across the little green between.  It is like an elven meadow, the little people running about their blissful business – the tallest thing they can see is the living tower of blossoms rimming their country.  No eyes can pass the borders to see the sorrow of our world, the world of mortals.  No tiny heart is troubled like mine, knowing of the suffering and wickedness and death I am about to witness.
Are elves diminutive or tall?  Those legendary immortals, acquainted with nature and delight, cut off from our world by size, by magic, or by choice?  Tolkien wrote about elves, despising the modern conception of them as petal-sized fairies, who evade human capture and notice by their slightness.  The author’s idea was of a people maybe even taller than men, living in the depths of the forests or across the leagues of the sea.  They were powerful and wise, joyful – and sorrowful.  For Tolkien’s elves could see over the roses.  They witnessed mortality and evil and the changing world, and it was a grief to them.
Mankind was in a different sort of captivity: not hemmed by fragrant visions of living loveliness.  Their world was the broken, mortal one, saturated with sorrow.  Battlements built high: temptation, pain, guilt, fear – guarded their even seeing something else.  And then they saw the stars.  Ever beautiful and untouched, glittering points in the sky spoke of a joy and purpose beyond the grueling existence through which men plodded.  Faramir tells that men burdened by mortality built high towers and communed with the stars.
They may have been wrong, seeking something forbidden, discontent with their created lot.  In the Shire lived a different sort of mortal.  They knew fear and death, so they celebrated peace and long life (and birthdays).  Life was too short to simply hoard; they gave away.  In the rural country of the Hobbits there was danger of becoming fat and complacent, gradually surrendering more and more of the fullness of life granted to mortals.  But most didn’t.  They enjoyed things: friends and family, stories, food and drink, walking, gardening.
Outside the Shire, the Hobbits proved that it was they who had built their country, and not that the simple life of relative ease had birthed their contentment.  Hobbits don’t have courage in tight spots because it is hiding deep inside them; their courage is something exercised every day.  It takes enormous strength to feast when you know the world is dark, to hope when it has been so long since anything happened to encourage you.  Complacency is not hope.  And Samwise Gamgee was not complacent.
He carried with him the willingness to seize good times.  His eyes grow large with wonder at the hidden elvish cities he visits. They’re in a gardenous land filled with herbs and wild game just his size, so he stews some rabbit. And when his quest seems hopeless, he sits on the top stair of an enemy tower and sings about the stars: those beacons of hope anchoring him to a reality he belongs to.  He can’t access it now, but it is no less sure or beautiful because it is far away.

Above all shadows rides the Sun



And Stars for ever dwell:



I will not say the Day is done,

Nor bid the Stars farewell.

So in the hobbits we have the same spirit as the elves seeing over their flower-hedge, but in reverse.  The elves looked out and what they saw brought grief in – something they would not shrink from, but took and blended with their joy.  And the hobbits looked out and what they saw brought hope, but they took it and blended it with their weariness.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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