Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Day at the Ballet

Last week Chloe and I spent our Friday afternoon at the ballet with friends.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's rendition of Cinderella has greatly inspired our Chloe, and she's been twirling through the house in all manner of tutus and princess regalia ever since.

Especially fantastic was the orchestra! The Nutcracker Ballet is danced to a prerecorded soundtrack, so this was the girls' first time seeing a ballet danced to the music of a live orchestra. All of the girls are beginning music lessons of one sort or another, and it was really cool to be able to show them the top musicians in their city as they rehearsed before the show. With enough practice, some day they could be in the pit!

They watched, transfixed.

Getting to be a little girl at the ballet is a pretty awesome experience.

Getting to see it through the eyes of those little girls is even better.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Small Slice of Summer

I have never been a pie eater. I was always the one at dessert who would pass up the apple pie amid incredulous exclamations such as, "You don't like pie? Who doesn't like pie?"

I don't like pie. I'll take just about anything over pie for dessert - even fruit, and that's saying a lot, people. But last summer I discovered that there is actually a pie that I cannot get enough of. Every time I take my first bite, I think the same thing: this tastes like summer on a plate.

The best part is that it's incredibly easy.

Aunt Grace's Pie Crust:
Mix 1/2 cup shortening, 3 T boiling water, and 1 t cold milk in mixer with whisk attachment on high. Once well mixed, add in 1/2 t salt and 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups of flour by hand with a fork until just mixed. Roll out crust between two sheets of wax paper. Do not overwork the crust! Gently place in a pie pan. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 8 minutes and let cool.

Meanwhile, wash a quart of fresh, ripe strawberries and dice. Place half of the diced strawberries into the cooled pie shell, and mash the rest.

Put the mashed berries into a pan with 3/4 c sugar and bring to a boil. Dissolve 3 T cornstarch into 3/4 c water and add to the boiling mixture. Return to a boil and then simmer on low for about ten minutes or until thickened. Pour over the diced berries in the piecrust and chill several hours.

When you're ready to serve, mix whipping cream on high in your mixer until soft peaks form, and serve each delightful slice with a big dollop of the whipped cream on top.

And there you have it... a small slice of summer, right in the middle of spring.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Bitter and the Sweet

Life is changing soon for us. We're leaving a home we love. We're beginning a new adventure as a family. Our days are mingled with happy and sad moments, and our God is ever present.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."
Isaiah 43:2

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Finally, Spring

A day well spent, at the park with friends. 

There was sunshine and wading in the stream and snake stalking. 

Winter, it seems, is behind us at last, and we are glad of it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Easter 2013

The Smith Family Easter, in iphone snaps:

Egg-dying hyjinks:

Morning readiness:

Sunday finest:

Gracious table:

Indoor egg hunts:

He Is Risen!

Sweet Day.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?'"
John 11: 25-26

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Dash into Tears

We've been at the pediatrician's twice this week in an effort to get all caught up with physicals and immunizations before the big move. This morning Charlie had his well check and had to get a few shots, which set off a flurry of questions and concerns from the older three on behalf of little bro. They asked me about the "worst shot I ever got," and I ended up telling them about the steroid shot I had to get when I went into labor with Chloe at 23 weeks. Without a doubt, it was the most painful shot I have ever received - I could feel the steroid coursing up and down my veins, and it hurt so badly I cried like a baby. I've had to endure spinals and epidurals, and they don't hold a candle to that steroid shot. The worst part of it all was that I had to get another one the next morning - so for the entire 24 hours in between, all I did was lay in my hospital bed and think about what was waiting for me the next morning.

Sam listened with wide eyes and rapt attention as I told them the story, and then he said, "Mom, if I had been there and saw that happen to you, I would have dashed into tears."

Here he is at his six year old checkup, all bravado and smiles:

He is such a sweetie, this boy. I adore him.

Smith kids get donuts to take the sting of the shot away:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Journey with Joshua, Part 3

"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." 
Luke 18:17

When I was little, I went through this period of time when I was having really scary nightmares.The memory of it is still vivid to me. I was in the top bunk in the little room I shared with my sister, and I remember laying there staring at the ceiling, trying to get up the courage to slide all the way down to the cold wood floor and make the journey to my parents' room.

I'd race down the dark hall as fast as I could and climb into my dad's side of the bed. Both my parents were usually sound asleep and barely acknowledged my presence, but my dad always slept on his side, and I would snuggle up next to him and throw one arm over his shoulder. In that moment, my little world would change, and things would become right again. Knowing that he was with me took my fear away. Alone, I was terrified. But when I flung my little arm over his shoulder and knew he was with me, I knew that I was safe. Even if that noise I thought I'd heard downstairs was a bad guy and he came into the room, my dad would protect me. I didn't have to be afraid.

As an adult, I recognize the naivete of my childlike understanding back then. Hypothetically speaking, if it really were an intruder, we were all in big trouble. Though my dad was pretty heroic, he probably would have met his match in a gun-wielding maniac. But when I was five, I didn't think there was any one or any thing that could possibly stop him from keeping me safe. He always said he would protect me, and I believed him.

When Jesus talked about how much he valued the faith of children in Luke 18:17, He wasn't talking about how much he loved kids. He does love kids - but He was talking about that "naivete" I referenced earlier. Sometimes kids are so much smarter than their adult counterparts. Unburdened with the baggage of the world's troubles, they just believe you when you tell them things. They're so beautifully uncomplicated.

God told Joshua not to be afraid because He would be with him. God tells us not to be afraid because He will be with us. He promises that He will not leave us or forsake us; the study notes in my ESV Bible call this "an assurance of the companionship and strength of the Lord." I loved reading that. This past week as things went up, down, round and round with the sale of our home, I was comforted by the realization that God was not just the mighty warrior I needed to get me through this; He was walking next to me through each moment as a friend.

The peace didn't come easily; I had to keep fighting for it. Satan wanted nothing more than to steal it from me, and he lurked in every quiet moment taunting me with my worst fears:

There is no way things are going to work out the way you hope they will.
Do you honestly think God cares about this? Seriously, don't be so stupid! If He really is God, don't you think He has bigger things to take care of?
I know He says that He's going to make this all work for your good, but look at this person, and that person, and that one over there! Didn't work out for them, did it? Remember that pastor who was praying his little girl wouldn't die? Look what happened - he was way better than you, way more important to God - and she still died. 
You don't have a right to hope.
You should be afraid. In fact, kid, you should be terrified.

At one point I had to get out my dictionary and look up the word "assurance." Here's how it's defined:

"Promise or pledge; guaranty; surety; full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty; freedom from timidity; presumptuous boldness."

John MacArthur puts it another way:

"God's presence with him was sufficient to enable him to meet boldly every obstacle that the future could bring." {MacArthur Bible Commentary}

This whole move to Rochester? It's not easy. None of it. Not selling a house, or buying a house. Not saying goodbye to dearly loved family, and friends who are like family. Not leaving a church we love. Not being apart for ten weeks and counting. Not starting a new job. Not finding a new community. It's been hard and painful and sad, and it's not over.

What I want to tell you is that God has used it for good in my life. He has taught me things about who He is that no one can take away from me, things you couldn't even begin to place enough value on.

As I journeyed with Joshua, He taught me not to be afraid.

"... for He has said, 'I will not leave you nor forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5, quoting Genesis 28:15, Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8. Joshua 1:5, and 1 Chronicles 28:20)

"Believers can be content in every situation because of this promise. Five negatives are utilized in this statement to emphasize the impossibility of Christ deserting believers. It is like saying, 'there is absolutely no way whatsoever that I will ever, ever leave you.'" {John MacArthur, MacArthur Bible Commentary}

Friends, if that is not the most excellent news, I don't know what is. In a world full of senseless tragedy, horrific evil, constant annoyances, and unpredictability lurking around every corner, here is a rock-solid promise from the Creator of the universe that He is, essentially, the most perfect friend we could ever hope to have. No circumstance can separate us from His love and protection and provision. That doesn't mean it will always work out the way we want it to. 

It means He will be there with us, and He will walk us through it. 

When we can't walk, He'll carry us. 

And we will come out on the other side stronger for knowing Him better.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My Journey with Joshua, Part 2

I've read the Bible's account of Joshua before, and I always pictured him as this modern-day Matthew McConaughey, taking over for Moses and triumphantly leading the grumbling Israelites into the Promised Land. Does anyone else do this? Reimagine their biblical heroes as the people that grace their television screens each day? All I can say is that in my little mind, Queen Esther bears a striking resemblance to Ali Landry and Noah is totes Wilford Brimley.

At any rate, my bubble burst wide open when I discovered that Joshua was 90. How crazy is that? He was 90 years old. Back then they did live a lot longer than we do now - he ended up dying at the robust age of 110 - but I had to go back and revamp my mental image of the story after I learned how old he was. Bye bye Matthew McConaughey. Hello... Paul Newman.

Okay, getting back to the story. The Israelites had been wandering around the desert for forty years, and at last, it was time for them to enter the land that had been promised to Abraham years before. God told Moses that He wanted 12 spies from the Israelite camp to scout out Canaan and report back on the details of what they saw: What is the land like? What are the people like? Are there a lot of them or just a few? What are the cities like? Well-fortified or easily defeated?

Joshua, his buddy Caleb, and their ten cohorts spent forty days scouting out Canaan, and when they returned all but two of them were convinced that there was no way they could march into it, defeat everyone who lived there, and seize it for themselves. Here's what they had to say:

"We came to the land to which you sent us. It. flows with milk and honey and this is its fruit [they had brought back a giant bunch of ripe grapes]. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large."

Then, the ten defeated spies dealt the final blow:

"And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there... we saw the Nephilim and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers."

The only other time scripture references the people called the Nephilim is in Genesis, and it is thought that they were a group of people who lived before the flood. They were mighty warriors and apparently very big people. Some commentaries refer to them as giants. Joshua and Caleb were the only two among the twelve who believed that despite the obvious circumstances, they should still move forward with the plan God had set before them.

So what does all of this have to do with me and Rochester and our house contract falling through?

A lot, actually.

God commanded Joshua three times in five verses to not be afraid.

"Be strong and courageous..." [Joshua 1:5]
"Only be strong and very courageous..." [Joshua 1:7]
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous..." [Joshua 1:9]

His timing is interesting; you don't have to be Einstein to discern that there was a lot that Joshua could have been afraid of. The people he was being called to defeat were well-known as physically imposing, frightening people who had no regard for God or His laws. His fellow scouts - probably good friends - thought he was nuts for continuing to trust God and move forward, and basically abandoned him. As if that weren't enough, he was leading a bunch of flakes who had just decided to forget him and God and the last forty years and head back to Egypt instead. He had everything to be afraid of, and God was telling him not to fear.

This command from God is what led me to Joshua last week. I know that as a Christian, I don't need to be afraid. I've memorized Phillipians 4:6-7 about being anxious for nothing - I can say it in my sleep. I've listened when friends have walked through their own seasons of fear and reminded them heartily that fear is not of the Lord. I don't even think I knew what that meant, but someone had said it to me once and it sounded wise. When everything went from bad to worse last week in a matter of hours, though, I became terrified. I think the crux of it was that I was afraid of what might happen.

If we didn't get new buyers, what might happen?
If we had to put the house back on the market, what might happen?
If we got new buyers but then they backed out too, what might happen?
If we had to cancel the contract on our new house, what might happen?
If we have to continue this life in limbo, what might happen?

As I struggled through the what if's, God put Joshua on my heart through a series of circumstances only He could orchestrate, and I opened up my Bible and started reading.

Okay, I'm not supposed to fear. I got that. But what I really need to know is, WHY? WHY do I not need to be afraid? Will You take care of all of this quickly, and the way I want You to? Will You make this easy for me because I love you and call myself a Christian? I already know the answers to these questions, and they're both no. His ways are not our ways, and as I've grown in my faith I've watched dedicated Christ followers endure tragedies that have made me shudder. He also warns us to expect trouble, even to welcome it. This place is not Heaven, it is the fallen world, and Jesus warns us that it is going to be hard. So why in the world should I not be afraid?

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the story :-).