Saturday, December 31, 2011

GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!

GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME – The grand finale of my 20 Great Things!

This realization is what inspired me to begin my list in the first place.  And I’ve been saving it for the end.

Lately, I’ve noticed how many people make comments something like this: “My family is wonderful, I love my job, I have great friends, money matters are fine, my children are the best.  God is good.  I am blessed”. 

I haven’t seen one like this: “My family doesn’t understand me, my job is hard, my friends talk about me behind my back, my house is in foreclosure, my kids always misbehave.  God is good.  I am blessed.”

When Christians talk about how great their lives are, and how wonderful God is, non-believers don’t really tend to listen.  Why should they?  “Yes, your life is perfect, and therefore, your God is great; but my life isn’t perfect and so why should I think there is a God who is great?”

Up until 2011, very few people had ever asked me about my faith.  Occasionally, I would share with someone who hadn’t asked, but I didn’t feel like I got much response.  I would guess that many people felt kind of like Keith and I were the people in the first statement.  The outward perception was a life most of society would envy.  Of course, there were plenty of imperfections.  We’re humans, after all.  But at first glance, all those things society values as important...we had most of them. 

As soon as our circumstances changed, people were shocked when we announced over and over again that we knew God was in control and we were at peace with what was taking place.  Dozens of e-mails started coming in almost immediately, and the natural response was to start sharing what God was revealing to us...His PEACE, HOPE, & LOVE.  Pretty soon, hundreds, and then thousands, were following Keith’s story.

Let me interrupt myself for just a moment to point something out.  I don’t ever intend to make something bigger out of Keith’s illness than it is.  He is in remission right now, and if it’s God’s will, he may never be knocked down by Wegener’s again.  People everywhere… in our state, in our town, and probably just down the street, are dealing with more serious things than we may ever have to.  My intention isn’t to put the focus on the specific problem, but to show that any hiccup in our everyday life can be used to give God glory and show others the hope only He can give, and lead them to want to know more.

It’s been over 9 months of people letting us know how Keith’s story has touched them, how our faith has inspired them, and how their walk with God has been impacted by what they’ve seen in our lives.  None of those things are something we can take credit for.  That’s all God’s work.  And what we know, most of all, is that the awful disease that started all this is the one factor that caused people to even notice God working in our lives.  See, people are a captive audience to this statement: “I was diagnosed with a rare disease, I don’t know whether I’ll live or die, treatment options are scary, I have no income, I have a wife and 3 young sons to care for.  God is good. I am blessed.”

Christmas this year took on even more meaning for me when I stopped to consider God’s greatest gift to mankind… the birth of His son Jesus, who would live and die, so that we could have the eternal hope we’ve shared with people all year long.   Jesus is the one reason.  Not just “the reason for the Christmas season”, but the reason we can live filled with hope and joy and peace in all circumstances.  Not some, but ALL.

Next time, when your life is really difficult, when it feels like nothing is going right, use that opportunity to share how amazing God is.  Then, people will listen.

Return Of The Ranch Boss


There isn't much to add to the title of this post.

He's back, and I'm thankful!

The return of the Ranch Boss is #19 of my 20 Great Things.

Road Trip to the Big Sky




Note the family truckster loaded to the rafters in the background...



Overheard just moments before this picture was snapped: "BOYS, it's your mother's birthday.  Just stop complaining and smile and let her take a picture, would you?!?"


Our road trip to Montana in October earned a spot among my 20 Great Things.  We usually take a family trip there over the summer, but it didn't happen this year.  I think the rest of the boys shared my secret disappointment, although we didn't say much, because we had an awful lot to be so very thankful for.  When the opportunity came up to take the trip as a family back to the NILE Stock Show in Billings, we were all over it.

Carson and I picked up Keith and the older boys from their hunting trip in eastern WA on our way to Montana.  I decided to surprise them by bringing along Sophie the Farm Dog.  That, in combination with showing up 5 hours late, didn't bring the excited reaction I was hoping for.  When a mysterious stench came wafting from the back seats just short of the Idaho border, Sophie was deemed the culprit and a thorough investigation was launched.  It was soon discovered to be the feet of a certain 11 year old, who shall remain nameless. ;)

It seems like an entire book could be written on the adventures of our trip.  At 11:45pm on the first night, as Sophie stood at the foot of the bed barking in our hotel room, I was scribbling notes about all that had taken place in just 8 short hours.

When I refer to our family as a traveling circus, it's hardly an exaggeration.  Visualize us entering the LaQuinta lobby in Missoula at 10:30pm on the first night...each child required to pack in twice their body weight in order to limit Keith and I to about 12 bags each.  I had just gotten done telling the lady at the front counter that our dog was very polite indoors, and would cause no problems.  This was a bit of a stretch...Sophie is very sweet, she just isn't an inside dog. When Keith, the boys, and Sophie came through the door, one of the suitcases was topped with a giant Ziploc bag  of dry dog food and a huge, dirty, metal dog dish...sure signs that our pooch wasn't accustomed to indoor living.  As I continued checking us in, Sophie tightly triple wrapped my legs in her leash while the rest of the crew stumbled over one another to get to the last of the freshly baked cookies on the counter.  I'm sure we woke up at least a few snoozing patrons.

The second day of our trip was Carson's birthday, and Keith had the bright idea of letting him pick out a gift at the Cenex in Missoula (an awesome store, by the way...you can fuel up, your husband can buy some boots & beef jerky, and you can find a cool new wardrobe...really!).  It should have come as no surprise that Carson wanted a bow and arrow set.  Over the next days, I dodged flying arrows as I piloted the family truckster across Big Sky Country.  Keith came to realize that traveling with 3 of Sophie would have been much easier than traveling with 3 Hickle boys.

We read a sign at a burger place in Livingston that had us repeating its words for the entire trip:

Closed for the season.  Reason?  Freezin'.

It's funny how not-so-funny things make you laugh hysterically when you are in closed quarters for too long with certain people.  That sign being an example.

At one point, Sophie was the cause of a two hour delay in finding a hotel that would take pets (much to Keith's dismay), but had nearly redeemed herself all the way as the most pleasant traveler on the trip, when we decided to take a detour to Wyoming and Yellowstone before heading back home.  While in Cody, Keith was walking her down the sidewalk and I was in a store with the boys.  Without notice, Sophie bolted on the leash, snapping the latch on her collar, and she barrelled right through the front door of an expensive store.  You know the kind of store that you don't enter if children are with you?  Yes, it was THAT kind of store. In she ran, running the entire length of the store, and ended her trick by jumping up into the front window display.  Keith felt so bad, he bought something small and got out of there, pronto.  I was assigned to leash duty for the remaining trip.

The stories really just go on and on from there.  It was a great, memorable time, and I felt really thankful to be together as a healthy family, just having fun.  Montana in the fall is a sight to behold for sure.  I'm glad that God delayed our trip.  I started my birthday morning on October 23rd with a beautiful run through West Yellowstone, and the day just got better from there.

The other day, the words from the readerboard at that burger place came to me, and made me giggle.  I imagine that is a sign I will always remember. :)

COURAGE

Carson the Courageous!


Jan's faith is an inspiration to many!

God has surrounded me by courageous people this year.  The courage I’ve witnessed has changed me, and is #17 of my 20 Great Things.

“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

Carson the Great faced 5 surgeries over a month’s time this summer with as much courage as I would imagine a 4 year old little guy could muster.  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” He sang these words to me one night before surgery. 

My good friend, Jan, announced on September 14th that, after 2 months of illness, she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  She was scheduled for surgery the following week, and chemo treatments would immediately follow.  Jan ended her e-mail with this courageous message:

“Thank you all for praying and encouraging me.  I have hope and am trusting in the Lord.  I have many battles and trials to come, but as Habakkuk 3:8 says, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

The next evening, she joined a group of ladies from our church as we drove an hour into the mountains to set up for our women’s retreat.  2 days later, she and her daughter spent the day at our women’s retreat.  Keep in mind she had been very ill already for 2 months.  What would cause her to fight through it and go anyway?  Courage.  The following week, she had surgery, and the long road of treating her cancer began.  The months since then continue to tell the same story of her courage.  As of today, Jan still has a long battle ahead, and your prayers for her continued strength and healing would bless her greatly.

Of course, I can’t leave out the Ranch Boss.  His moments of weakness were never for lack of courage.  I clearly remember sitting beside him in the hospital and thinking I would never forget his bravery, and his unwavering faith.  I felt thankful that God chose me to be right there with him, and learn some of the biggest lessons of my life.  I thought of how our boys were learning true courage firsthand by watching their dad.

The courageous walks of these 3, and of so many have been an ongoing inspiration to me all year long.  I’m thankful God chose to use them to lift me up at all the right times, and provide an example of the courage I want to have.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis

Cowboy Up Dinner & Auction

The number of ways our family has been blessed this year is endless.  We are thankful for every single blessing, big or small.  But I would be remiss if the Cowboy Up Dinner & Auction was not on my 20 Great Things list.

I like to take the Hickle family out of the picture when I think about that event, because it really had so little to do with us.  We were the recipients of incredible amounts of support and kindness, but we could have easily been any other family in our community going through the same thing.  It was the biggest firsthand example I've seen of a community coming together to support a family.  Actually, I use the word "seen" loosely.  We know about the event, but weren't there to be part of it; Keith wasn't able to be out in public yet. That night, we drove by the high school while it was taking place, and both of us cried the rest of the way home.  Seeing the parking lot and surrounding streets filled with cars driven by people who were inside to support us was our most humbling experience ever.

There are many details I don't know about the auction.  What I do know is that it began as a spaghetti dinner and bunco game, intended to raise some money for us.  They figured 50-75 people might attend.  I remember when I received the e-mail from our friend Rene', saying that she and a few others wanted to organize something simple for us.  I couldn't even reply because my answer was "no" and I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I told our friend (and pastor), Scott, how I felt, and he told me that I would have to be willing to start accepting things from others.

What started small turned into something bigger than anyone imagined.  There was not an exact head count, but they figured over 600 people came.  People at the auction began texting us pictures of the crowd and sharing stories of all that was taking place. God Sightings were shared with us that night and for months to come.  It turned out that the food prepared for about 350-400 was enough to feed everyone.  Hundreds of donations filled tables for the silent auction, while still more were auctioned off during the live auction; there were tables lined with beautiful desserts; a musician friend had written a song for Keith and performed it that night for the first time; people generously gave to support our family, some of them we've never met;  Rocking Bar H t-shirts were made and sold... now,when I go into a store uptown and see a stranger wearing that shirt, or go to the school and see a child wearing that shirt, I can't even explain the emotion attached to that.  What a beatiful event, yet like I said, it had so little to do with us.

By far, the most difficult part of Keith's illness for me was being on the receiving end of generosity.  Money, most of all. When the auction was done and a group of friends came to bring us the proceeds, I wanted to give it all back. One part of me didn't want to swallow my pride enough to admit we needed help.  The other part of me, also prideful, didn't want to be under the scrutiny of others as life after the auction unfolded and people knew we had been generously gifted.

I'll admit I've struggled with scrutiny since the auction.  My concerns for how we would ever live our lives as normal were confirmed in the months to follow.  I tend to worry about what other people think, so it's especially hard on me.  The Bible tells us not to seek the approval of man, but to seek the approval of God, and I have to remind myself of that often.  One day, I asked a friend of ours, "How can we ever live normally after the auction, and after all the generosity we've been shown?  I feel like we have to re-pay everyone."  He replied, "Everyone is doing this for you so that you CAN live normally." 

The auction brought about even more goodness to us than being surrounded by the love of an incredible community, led by a group of true friends. It brought the lesson of continuing to keep our eyes on God, and following Him, even at times when we're feeling the pressure of the world.


Above and below, some of the faces who made the Cowboy Up Auction come to life.  They represent so many whose love have filled our hearts with gratitude.




As much as I wish we could have been there in person, it obviously wasn't God's plan for that to happen. We're humbled that it was His plan for us to receive the blessings we did, and we will always, always remember the love that He showed us through the hearts and hands of so many.

Vacation Bible School


Trying to get 125 volunteers and 250 kids ready for a group photo.  Piece of cake...

#15 of 20 Great Things...you just knew VBS would be on the list, didn't you?
I think that by now, everyone who knows me AND everyone who doesn't know me is aware that I'm a VBS director...and that I've been directing VBS since 2004...and that VBS is my favorite week of the year.  If you didn't know any of those things, now you do. :)

God has sent some amazing lessons my way through VBS.  8 years ago, I was asked to direct children's ministries at our church, and to consider putting on a VBS program that summer.  My first question (to self ONLY): "What does V.B.S. stand for?"
No, I'm not joking.  Not at all.  Clearly I had a lot to learn.

What I've learned over the years is that at VBS, and in every other part of my life, God is in control.  And I just have to repeat that, because someone reading this still doesn't understand that yet...GOD IS IN CONTROL.
For awhile, on the inside, I was taking the credit for the success of our VBS program, and also taking every little dinky mistake to heart.  When I finally realized God orchestrates that whole program each year, just as he does every detail of our lives, being a VBS Director became even cooler than it already was!

Why is VBS so wonderful?
 friendships are formed ... life changing lessons are learned ... volunteers lives are impacted as much as the kids ... VBS music is awesome! ... excitement builds all year long ... people work together like the "body" they should ... parents are thankful ... kids don't want VBS to end ...the message of God's love for us and desire for us to follow Jesus reaches SO far outside the walls where VBS is held!

A few weeks ago, a little girl who attends our VBS program was telling her mom she had seen me, and referred to me as "that lady who loves Jesus".  That's my prayer for every person who steps foot into our program, whether they are a child, a family member, or a volunteer...that they would all be "that person who loves Jesus".

Most of the panda ears and bamboo have been rounded up and packed away by now, and will soon be replaced by pilot's goggles and flying pigs. Without a doubt, VBS 2012 already holds a place on my GREAT THINGS list in the coming year!


Friday, December 30, 2011

Books

Books are #14 of my 20 Great Things...

I grew up loving books. Over the years, I drifted away from them, always using the excuse that I was too busy.  About a year ago, I thought to myself, "If you're too busy to read, then that must mean that you're too busy to learn." When I thought of how silly that sounded, I knew I needed to make a change.  Some great books fell into my hands in 2011, and these 3 are my favorites:

The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel ...whether you're a Christian or not, you'll be glad you took the time to read this book.  It's a super easy read, and will help you to step back and think about the way you're living your life.

Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen ...a kids' book that is guaranteed to make you laugh.  I promise.

A Heart For Freedom by Chai Ling ...I haven't finished it yet, but the first 2/3 of the book is enough to convince me this is a favorite.  It's a true story of a woman raised in China, and her search for freedom, purpose, and peace.  I'm having a hard time putting it down.

I hope someone, somewhere out there will take the time to read all of these.  And when you do, I want to know what you think of them!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Summer Months

Cliff jumping at Little Naches

Hiking at Crystal Mountain

Pouting at Sun Lakes


I think the summer season in western Washington should officially be changed to August 1-September 30.

The period of time encompassed by these dates is #13 of my 20 Great Things in 2011.

The reward for Washingtonians who endure months of gray and rain is August and September.  There is nowhere in the world I would rather be than right here during those 2 months.  The weather is beautiful, the landscape is amazing, and life is good.  As if friends and family don't complain enough that I'm difficult to get in touch with at other times, the sunshine that lures me outside every waking hour of the day (and sometimes the nighttime ones too) means that they can just give up on my public existence during this time.  I'm not indoors to answer the home phone, and it's almost certain that I've misplaced my cell somewhere outside and will not find it in time to take a call either.

Maybe I do it on purpose.  Okay, I guess I'm admitting it.  Human contact during the summer means the other party involved may want to go indoors, and dang, then I'd have to go with them. I don't think there's a reason good enough to be inside when the sun is out.  When you live in a place best described as "soggy" for months out of the year, how could you want anything but to be soaking up every possible ray of sunshine while it's out?

It's not like I only go outside when its sunny.  If that was the case, I wouldn't leave the house much living in this area. I run and hike in the wind, rain, ice, and snow.   I chase cows in the pouring down rain.  I stomp through mud puddles in my flip flops and don't bother to carry an umbrella or wear a hood when the sideways rain is pelting me in the face.  Yup, I'm a true native of the Evergreen State.  I don't necessarily like all of those things, but they're worth it just to spend my summer months enjoying the sun and hiding from people. :)

I guess the summer months do take a toll on the parts of my life that are done indoors.  Things like cooking, paperwork & cleaning get put on hold.  When the rain finally starts, I've got some serious catching up to do. I suppose if I lived in a place where it was sunny all the time, my indoor responsibilities would be relinquished.  I have a pretty good feeling that's why God chose to put me right here.

So next August, when you're trying to contact me, and it just isn't working out, make a note to try back again on October 1st.  I'll be available then.

The Help


Next on my list of Great Things is The Help, my favorite movie from 2011.  I'll just say this...if you haven't seen it, get to it.

Okay, I'll say just a little bit more... :)

I saw The Help (for the first time) in a theater this summer with some girls in the family, and left wishing I had thought to pack my pockets with Kleenex.  I was a mess, and looked like I had been crying for a week straight.  Two weeks later, I had a rare night home alone and went back to the theater by myself to see it again. I've never done that before, which should give some indication of how much I loved the movie.  This time, I was scribbling notes by the light of my phone screen...there were so many details I didn't want to forget.  Last night, Keith and I watched it together, and he loved it as much as I do.  Yes, I said it's THAT good.

I love that, in thinking of the movie, there are so many awesome themes to choose from.  It is loaded with content that leaves the viewer with much to think about.
The most popular quote of movie, which countless other bloggers have touched on, is one I have to share:

"You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important."

Aibileen, the black housemaid, loved on the white children she cared for as much as a mother would care for her own child. Despite being mistreated by white folks, she continued to fill the heads and hearts of their children with the encouraging words they needed to hear. That's how we should treat all children.  Aibileen could have let bitterness control her actions, but instead, she chose love.

In all that we do, we can choose love too. 

I'm so tempted to keep rambling, but really, you MUST see this movie for yourself.  Now go!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our 2011 Theme Verse

My #11 of 20 Great Things...

Be joyful always; pray continually;
give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Our family has never had a "theme" verse in the past, but late one rainy April night, the boys and I repeated these words over and over, and talked about what they meant, all the way from Swedish hospital to our house, an hour away.  These words were exactly what each of us had needed...as we left the hospital parking garage, 2 of the 3 boys were crying, and I was desperate to comfort them and make then a promise that their dad would be well very soon.  Within an instant, these verses came into my mind, and I was sharing them with the boys.  I quickly realized the boys hadn't needed my words, nor a promise that I couldn't guarantee. They needed the truth of God's words.  They needed His comfort, and they needed instruction on how to respond in all situations.

As a church worker, I know the importance of teaching children to memorize Bible verses.  Sometimes, however, we worry more about quantity than quality.  If they can recite one new verse per week, we're doing our job.  Now if you take a year's worth of verses and ask them to repeat those verses, you might be lucky to get one stated correctly.  Our situation helped me to realize the importance of helping to make God's word relevant to the life of each child, but relating it to their unique circumstances.  And if it takes an hour in the car, or weeks, or even months to get it right, God's message will have a life long impact.

The Gilthvedt Girls



Last Wednesday night, I planned to stop by my parents' house for a short time, and then head out to get started on my Christmas shopping.  After 5 hours, midnight rolled around, and I was still sitting at the kitchen counter, talking with my mom and 2 sisters.  They, by the way, happen to be my #10 of 20 Great Things in 2011.

I thought of this blog post as we were talking that night, and told them we needed a picture together.  About 30 pictures and a half hour later, these were the best we could do.  I'm pretty sure the neighbors a quarter mile away heard the roaring laughter as we attempted a group shot.  My mom and sisters can make anything fun. :) 

There's just so much to be said about why these three are on my list of great things.  I guess I should preface this by saying  my brother & his girlfriend, my dad, my in-laws, aunts & uncles, granpdparents, cousins, and so on have also earned a right to be on this list...but since 20 is my limit, they won't all fit. :)  But back to these gals.  They love me, Keith, and our boys a ton.  They take time for all of us, even when I don't take the time for them.  They accept my shortcomings with minimal complaint. :)  They are so much fun!

Throughout 2011, these 3 have sacrificed for my family in so many ways.  Their house became second home to our boys while Keith was in the hospital for a month.  Outside of that, there were, gosh, probably nearly a hundred other doctor-related appointments and overnight trips where they took the kiddos as well.  To have a place for our boys to go and where life was kept as close to normal as possible for them was bigger than you can imagine.

When it comes to giving and receiving, I am surely on the receiving end of the Gilthvedt girls.  I bounce around like a human Tigger, and in the few instances when I stop, they always welcome me back with open arms.  Getting to hang out with them for a whole night definitely beat any Christmas gift I could have found. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Those Big Red Creatures That Say MOO!

Big Mama at the Rocking Bar H

Yup, because I live on a farm, my bovine friends were bound to make the 20 Great Things list too...

I walked in the door about 4:30pm tonight, turned on the oven, put on an apron, hauled out an armload of shopping bags full of presents, & turned on some Christmas music.  Keith was at a job uptown and the boys were all at my mom's, so with the house to myself, I was going to start baking and gift-wrapping.  Just as I added a few eggs to the mixer...you know, the really important part where you're watching the clock to make sure you precisely follow the prescribed mixing time...the phone rang.

"Hi, Brook.  This is your neighbor, Russ.  Is it possible that you have a cow out?"  I laughed, "Yah, it's always possible we have a cow out."  And with that, I was racing around to hide unwrapped gifts, turning the oven off, pulling on my rubber boots, and driving away to find one of the missing herd.

Our cows have this ability to pick the most inopportune time to cause me grief.  They pretend not to have much brainpower...using every ounce they can muster for chewing on grass, producing fabulous smelling fertilizer, & occasionally mooing all night long, just to remind us that they are in our presence.  But I know better.  I can almost hear the laughter disguised as a "moo" as they find ways to escape when the Ranch Boss isn't around to put them back in.

I suppose over the past 6 years, I've done my share of complaining, so while thinking of what I'd add to my list of greats tonight, the cows (whom I've been anything but grateful for) came to mind.

The Ranch Boss positively loves working with cows, & I've finally stopped trying to analyze and understand that strange behavior.  When he was in the hospital in March, he watched a few of our bulls sold at a sale where we consign in Montana, and as bummed as he was not to be there this year, the change of scenery from dowtown Seattle out the window to an auction ring in Manhattan, Montana on the laptop was just what he needed.  During some of Keith's lowest times this year, a conversation about our cows or what was happening at the ranch picked him up more than anything else. 

And as much as I like to harass Keith about the cows, they really are great for our boys, too.  I've heard many times that kids raised on farms really have it good.  And they do...they're learning some awesome stuff that they will use for life...patience, good work ethic, & business skills just to name a few.

While I'm sure they'll continue to escape for the pure entertainment of watching me react, & use my flowerbeds and vegetable garden as a giant litter box, I intend to keep in mind that what is "great" for Keith, and "great" for the boys, is also great for me. :)

Welcome to my list, mamas.  Moo...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Ranch Race

2011 Ranch Race contestants

It's sort of hard to fully describe what goes on at our place every Labor Day weekend, but we call it the Rocking Bar H Ranch Race, and it's #8 of my 20 Great Things.

What makes the Ranch Race so great to me is the group of friends who come out to compete.  They leave their fear (and maturity) at home, and show up ready to be tough and have fun doing whatever we throw their way.  They climb, swim, shoot, sprint, eat, ride, and race their way to the finish, and make some awesome memories along the way!

I sometimes wonder if I could endure the things Keith and I make them go through, but I love that they come back for more each year!  Any friend who still loves us after a Ranch Race experience is a true friend indeed, and I'm so thankful for all of them!

A New Kind Of School

I guess we're in business now...

"Class will be held in front of the fireplace on cold days". Getting to set the rules is fun! :)  


#7 of my 20 Great Things is something I never would have expected.  If you'd asked me even a year ago, I would have said, "No way, there's not a chance I will I be homeschooling any of my children."  And just like that, things changed...

Toward the end of October, we decided to take the plunge on homeschooling Clay, who has been asking, begging, and pleading since before kindergarten.  I seem to recall referring to it as harassment.  In my mind, I was unqualified for the job and afraid I'd do more harm than good.  I have to wonder if other parents ever feel that way. 

Maybe I shouldn't consider it taking the plunge yet...Cole and Carson are still happily being shipped off to school each day...I guess you could say we're getting our feet wet.

To put it simply, so far so good.  I've been "job sharing" the teacher responsibility with a wonderful friend, which means we take turns teaching our 2 boys during the week.  Fortunately for me, she is flexible and willing to work with my schedule, or lack thereof.  Having Clay around the house more often is really great, and we get to spend more time together, whether doing school work, or just doing everyday life.  We definitely spend more time talking.  I'd say that parents of middle-schoolers are often getting less talk time with increasingly busy schedules, so I'm feel super thankful that it's the opposite for us.  

Looking ahead, I think it's going to be great as it fits into our life...school can work around our schedule instead of us having to work around the school schedule.  That is awesome!  And no pressure...we've committed to doing it this year, and will re-evaluate before the next school year.  I totally breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that I wasn't required to sign on as a teacher for life!

I don't know how many times I've commented at the end of a long school break that I'm just not ready to send my kids back to school.  Homeschool sort of seems like the logical solution to that problem.  Who would've guessed???  Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, don't' we?

I'm sure this won't be the last of my homeschool posts...give me a little time, a few science experiments and human development lessons, and I'll be back with some great stories of my adventures in homeschooling!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BOYS!

In Deer Lodge, Montana
Cole and friends

Clay and I at the first annual Pumpkin Classic

Next on my list of 20 Great Things from 2011 is BOYS!  Today marks the beginning of my motherhood of boys.  It's Clay's 12th birthday today, and like every other mother in the world, I can't figure out where the past dozen years have gone.  I do know they've been a lot of fun, though! 

Had you asked me if I expected to have all boys, I would have said "no way!"  I was pretty sure that girls were in store for me.  Now it all makes sense, though.  God knew I was not capable of french braiding hair, doing makeup, or spending hours in a shopping mall, so He blessed me with giving crew cuts & clothes shopping at Cabela's instead.

I am surrounded by boys all the time, and all the fun stuff that comes with them.  Usually, that involves bikes piled at the back steps, some dirt, bb guns around every corner, some more dirt, motorcycle helmets, a little more dirt, tools laying around, did I mention dirt(?), Nerf gun bullets in my flower arrangements, a dash of dirt, 12 baseball bats per child scattered across the yard (but no baseballs because they've all been hit into the neighbor's yard), a pinch of dirt, hay in every pocket of every article of clothing, still more dirt, widespread Legos and tractors and army men,  and a never-ending stack of clothes covered in DIRT.  In fact, sometimes I wonder if they just take clothes from their closets and add them to the pile just to make sure it never shrinks?

Despite the ongoing mess and dirt, my boys are GREAT for more reasons than I would ever have the space to write.  They are brave, straight forward, strong, independent, big-hearted, adventurous, God-seeking, funny, loving, helpful, capable, energetic, creative, busy, respectful, kind, prayerful, considerate, and they fill my heart with JOY.  It's so cool to think of all the ways my boys have blessed my life over this past year. 

Clay is dependable.  He is the ranch hand that I call on to help around our place.  From driving a tractor to shooting a coyote, he can do it.  He is confident and resourceful, able to figure out how things need to be done.  When it comes to serious matters, Clay is someone I can talk to and confide in.  At 12 years old, he is mature and wise beyond his years.  I'm thankful to be able to lean on him in many ways.

Cole reminds me daily that love rules.  He is full of kindness and forgiveness.  He treats people and animals alike with the kind of love that God wants all of us to show others.  Last month when a World Vision catalog came in the mail, Cole spent most of one night reading every detail, and when he was done, he asked if he could take $100 from his savings account to buy a goat and 2 chickens for a poor family in another country.  If we all had his desire and willingness to give freely, we could impact this world in amazing ways. 

Carson is inspirational.  He has shown me that a child is never too young to set an example for an adult.  With our normal, stable family life shaken up for much of the year, he trooped along with his big brothers leading the way.  He was brave and strong when Keith and I were not there, and as if that wasn't enough, he repeated that bravery when it was his turn for 5 surgeries & hospital stays.  One night before going to the hospital, he sang me a song..."Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  I needed that.

As different as they are, it's clear that God put each of these awesome boys in my life, not only for me to help raise into His men, but also for them to teach me!  I'll gladly take all the dirt that comes along with them. :)

Simply put, life is good, being surrounded by boys.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Burger Heaven!


Miner's of Yakima, home of the famous Big Miner Burger, is my #5 of 20 great things.  It's worth the drive from wherever you are to check this place out!  If iCarly isn't enough to put Yakima on the map, this place should do the trick.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it...

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Kitchen Is Smiling...


My 4th of 20 great things in 2011 is dedicated to those who love to bake. 

After using only 1 loaf pan for the first 14 years of married life, I decided it was time to venture out and buy a second pan.  About the time I calculated the wasted hours, waiting for one loaf to get done before using the same pan to bake the second loaf, a Williams Sonoma catalog showed up in my mailbox.

When WS shows up, I like to find a place to hide from distractions (also known as a husband and children).  I read the details of each and every item, and dream of what life would be like if I could just live in those pages.  As I finish the back cover, I've usually wiped the drool from my face at least a dozen times.

When I spotted some loaf pans, my eyes quickly jumped to the price...$25 each.  EEK!  After the initial shock, I figured I should at least let the company defend why it would charge so much for a simple piece of bakeware, so I got online and started reading reviews.  They all sounded too good to be true.  I debated for a few days, spent a few more hours waiting around for single loaves to bake in the oven, and decided it was time to give them a try.

The day my Goldtouch Nonstick Loaf Pans arrived, I anxiously washed them up and tried them out with a zucchini bread recipe I'd been using the past few months.  Holy cow.  When the bread was done, it didn't even look like I'd used the same recipe.  When it was cooled enough to eat, it didn't even taste like the same recipe.  If it were possible for pans to be magic, I would say these are.  I imagine this sweet little kitchen fairy flying around the inside of my oven, sprinkling some sort of pixie dust on my bread.  It really is that good.

Seriously, my kitchen is a better place.  Keith and the kids are gobbling up bread faster than I can bake it.  I'm grinning as they eat, because they have no idea about all the healthy things I can disguise in a loaf of pumpkin bread or zucchini bread.  If you love to bake, or even if you don't, throw out whatever you're using now and buy these pans.  They are life-changing.  I promise your kitchen will smile, too. :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Growing Up

Old enough to buck bales this year...

Number 3 of 20 Great Things in 2011 was watching my boys grow up.  While parents everywhere are talking about the past with eyes full of tears and wishing their kids could be babies again, I am cheering over what the next day will bring.  It's always been that way with my boys.  Every stage just seems so much cooler than the last, and I love seeing how God is working in their lives and shaping them into who He wants them to be. 

When haying season came around this summer, Cole (8 at the time) was finally strong enough to buck hay bales on his own.  It was cool to see the grin he tried to keep to himself when working with all the teenage boys.  He had graduated up from driving truck to working with them, and he was proud.

When I look back over the year, all 3 of our boys have grown up in substantial ways.  With Keith being sick, they were exposed to a pretty dramatic life change for much of the year.  Through that time, they learned amazing life lessons that will stick with them forever.  They were blessed to experience all that they did...seeing that God is there for us all the time, watching Him answer prayers, feeling the support of our extended family, learning how God uses other people to help carry us through the hard times, seeing love pour in from friends, our community, and people across the world.  I'm so thankful for all they learned this year!

Growing up comes in different forms.  Like the physical kind of growth that has Clay able to beat me at arm wrestling; or the mental kind that turned Cole into an awesome reader; even emotional maturity that helped Carson be brave during many medical procedures.  But of all the kinds of growth, seeing them grow in faith has been my favorite one of all!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Superheroes

Carson the Great and his sidekick, Super Sophie

And here goes, my second Great Thing of 2011...

This summer, Carson asked grandma to make superhero capes for both he and our dog, Sophie.  Grandma did, and soon the adorable duo was out saving the world...or at least our front yard.  Carson tried hard to fly from trees with his cape, and attempted to drag Sophie along the best he could.  Unsuccessful attempts didn't seem to be a discouragement.

When I think about a child wanting to be a superhero, I love that they don't consider what they CAN'T do, but only what they CAN.  I think God wants us all to think that way too. Sometimes in the transition from childhood to becoming an adult, we dismiss the reality that with God, all things are possible.  We start to think that we have control, and when control is in our hands, all things are not possible.

My prayer for Carson is that he holds on to that fearless attitude always.  In the summer of 2012, kids and volunteers at our SKY VBS program will hear it all week long...
"EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE WITH GOD" Mark 10:27
I can't wait for this message to inspire many to seek out their inner superhero. :)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

20 Great Things...

Carson the Great on skis for the first time


Trading a school day for a ski day...

The year 2011 has been a super eventful one for the Hickle family.  More than anything, we've been reminded that we do not control our own lives.  We have an awesome, amazing, and loving God who's in charge of that.  With that in mind, we can live each day with confidence that His plan for each of us is perfect; at the same time, we'd better live each moment with purpose, and remember that joy is in the journey.

It can be hard for people to understand how I've embraced this year as our best one yet.  As humans, we tend to associate "struggles" with "bad".  To me, struggles that shake up our lives so much & turn us to our Creator without a blink are a blessing.  An opportunity.  A little glimpse of Heaven.

When I was a kid, I had a recurring dream where I was hanging onto the last car of the racing roller coaster with just one hand; both legs were flying in the air, and the wind in my face kept me gasping for each breath.  I was scared to death and having fun at the same time.  I was able to hold on, barely, but just enough.  In so many ways, this past year has felt like that dream come to life.  And despite the crazy turns that have left me feeling derailment was imminent, our family has made some pretty cool memories.

Since life is pretty slow, with lots of time to spare these days :), I've decided that the last month of the year would be a great time to re-capture 20 great things from 2011.  If I'm actually going to follow through, some days might not be more than just a picture and a quick caption, but hey, I'm going to stick with it!

Today is #1.
One of my favorite events of 2011 was taking all our boys skiing for the first time.  I guess not just the first day, but this year marking our first year of doing it as a family.  Well...this one was actually more me and the kids.  But I figure this was God's way of giving me a chance to catch up and hopefully be able to keep up with Keith from here forward!  Skiing with the boys has certainly been a highlight for me this past year.  Listening to Carson argue that going downhill backwards is actually the right way; having Cole fall off the chair lift not just once, but twice, in about an hour's time; following Clay down a trail that I couldn't navigate, leaving several upside down skiers in my wake and most of my gear missing in the snow.  Those are fun times we'll be laughing about for years to come. :)