Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Isn't Over...

I didn't notice it as I hiked downhill on a cold, drizzly morning the beginning of this month.  But it caught my eye as I re-tracked my steps coming back up the mountain a short time later.  There stood a little tree all by itself...decorated for Christmas.

Earlier that morning, I struggled to drag myself out of bed.  Sometimes it's hard not to let the fog and freezing cold win.  It was a Sunday, and I knew my late start would lead to a mad scramble to get ready for the day when I returned home, but something convinced me to go anyway.

After I stopped to admire the sweet little tree for a minute, I headed on up the hill, so happy to have seen it.  Little, tiny, feathery snowflakes started falling, as I thought to myself..."If I'd gotten up when my alarm went off and started hiking on time, it's likely I wouldn't have seen the decorated tree at all in the early morning darkness.  If I'd gone any later, I wouldn't have taken that long trail and even passed that tree."  God wanted me right there at that time.

As I walked away, my mind stayed on that small evergreen.  It was alone and beautiful right where it stood.  Right in the little tiny spot where it rose up from the earth.

The tree has managed to capture my attention all month.  Since that day, I've been more inspired than usual to hike the back side of the mountain where it grows. The morning after Christmas, short on time once again, I was determined to see it...hoping it would still be decorated for me.  It was. :)  Even when I'm not up there...just driving down the road or out for a run or doing any number of other has been on my mind.

I know the ornaments will soon come down, but I was glad to see them still there this morning.  As I walked on today, these words came to my mind: CHRISTMAS ISN'T OVER.  When the decorations are stored away, and the family gatherings are done, and the people go back to work and school, Christmas isn't over.  We celebrate, and are thankful for, Jesus' birth every day of the year.  We should live like it.  If the extra little bit of patience and generosity and love isn't with us beyond the month of December, it should be.  I've read hundreds, if not thousands, of cards and greetings that talk about the Christmas spirit lasting through the year.  And now I get it.  The little tree helped me understand.

We can shine light to this world wherever we are.  We can bring joy to others.  We don't have to be in the middle of a crowd of people just like ourselves.  We can stand alone...and make a beautiful difference all year long, because Christmas is never over.

Friday, November 30, 2012

This Is What They Love...

Who needs gates?

 On a rainy Saturday morning about 3 weeks ago, Clay and Cole woke us up at 5:30am to say they were headed out to the pond for duck hunting.  They had gotten up half an 
hour or so before that...not even a hint of daylight in the sky...packed their gear
and were ready to roll.  I turned over in bed, so happy to be right there where it was 
warm and dry and I could hear the rain falling all around.   
Drifting back to sleep, I thought to myself, 
"This is what they love."

Elmer Fudd style...

 Yesterday afternoon, Cole jumped in the car at the end of school.  "Mom, I'm going to jump shoot the pond!  Come with me!"  The next minutes of the drive between school and home were spent studying fields and ponds between the 2 places...talking waterfowl species...practicing each of the 4 duck calls hanging from around his neck.  The little 
brother sat in back, listening as the big one spoke and taking it all in.  
As I listened, I thought to myself,  
"This is what they love."

About now, I'm plugging my ears...

Looking back about 10 years, I began shuttling around a sweet little blond haired, 
blue eyed boy and his baby to indoor soccer and outdoor soccer, story time at the library, horse riding lessons, then tae-kwon-do and t-ball.  In a few years, I'd add some cooking, swim, and piano lessons...up a league from t-ball to baseball...don't forget basketball, too.  The list gets longer.  As each of the 3 little ones grew, so did their minds, and their likes and dislikes.  
One day I finally paid attention to the talk from the back seat.  
 As we drove all over the place, I asked myself, 
"Is this what they love?"

Ears still plugged...
So I took Cole up on his jump shooting invitation.  He talked, then whispered...a mile a we approached the pond.  I pretended to listen, but this is what was running through my head - 

Why would I spend time coercing and convincing these young ones to love what they don't?  I don't feel too shoved in any direction to do what's going on around me...but this thing just sucked me in.  This thought that my kids need to do everything, and that what they're going to get apart from home is somehow better than what they're going to get at home.  Thank you, God, for prodding me out to this pond today, to be part of what they enjoy that I've had no part in pushing them to do.

At the point where I started to listen again,  Cole had me climbing through barbed wire and directed my steps for the rest of our time at the pond.  I followed and watched every 10 year old grown up right before my eyes as he led with 6 year old following intently and learning from his best friend.  
What a priceless piece of timeJust to be there at that moment, knowing
This is what they love. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sweet Traditions

Late Wednesday night I quietly came into our house, backpack on my shoulder and typical giant Brook-size suitcase in tow. There, straight ahead of me, was a "Welcome Home" sign.  Like countless similar signs, the boys made it while I was out of town; they do it every time I'm away.  It began in 2009, and I'll always remember coming home from that trip to my first sign.  These days, that tradition is definitely a highlight of my return.

I'm not the best person at keeping tradition.  Okay, maybe I'm one of the worst.  In the nearly 13 years that I've been a parent, our household has missed things like pumpkin carving and Easter egg coloring more than once.  I like to blame it on being too busy, but probably more realistically, it's me forgetting or just plain not taking the time (eek...I admitted it).  I know I have tradition-loving friends who are mortified to be reading this.  Sorry, guys...

It gets better (and maybe more shocking) though.  One year, when Clay was 2 and Cole was just a baby, I asked my mother in law to watch the boys so I could decorate the house for Christmas.  Yup...even the tree.  I figured it would be too much work with them there, and that, heaven forbid, the ornaments might not go on the tree in just the right places.  I'm so thankful for the objectivity that comes with time, because it wasn't many years later that I actually realized how crazy I was for doing that.  A year of Christmas decorating memories with my sweet young boys was missed because I wanted everything to be perfect.

 Maybe this is a more accurate statement: I skip over traditions when they aren't convenient for me.

I could go on with similar stories, but you get the point.

The strange thing is, I come from a family who is all about keeping tradition.  We consistently have some of the same old family recipes on holidays, my mom still buys all her kids (and now grandkids), new pajamas to be opened each Christmas Eve, and on and on.  I love the traditions; I've just totally slacked at keeping them. 

Anyhow, my point is kiddos began a tradition 4 years ago that they continue to do.  I look forward to it, and I just plain love it.   

As we head into the holiday season this year, I'm more thankful than usual for the sign that hung in front of me as I came home this week.  Not only did it bless me to know my boys were excited to have their mama was a perfect reminder of the importance of keeping old traditions alive.  One thing is for sure...this year all 5 Hickles will be trimming the tree together, no matter where the ornaments end up. :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tonight's Wake Up Call

Tonight I spent the evening training children's ministry volunteers at Refuge Church in Everett, about 60 miles north of home.  What a cool night for me...a great group of people, whose passion for ministry I could sense right away.  Refuge is a church plant, located in downtown Everett; a block in one direction from upscale shops and venues like the Everett Performing Arts Center, a couple of blocks in the other direction from the Everett Rescue Mission, and surrounded by a growing homeless population.  They are situated in an awesome area for reaching out to so many who need to hear of the love of Christ.

I left the training feeling thankful for the way God calls each of us to serve in different places.  I loved the urban ministry of Refuge, and that they were reaching a much different crowd of people than my little church in Enumclaw does.

When I drove away, I noticed a man walking down the sidewalk, pushing a stroller with a baby inside, and another little girl half running next to him.  I looked at my clock and thought of my own boys, at home in their beds.  As my car came to a stop at the light, the little girl's eyes caught mine and she stopped and waved and I could see her lips saying "Hi", with a little grin on her face.  The light turned green; I waved and mouthed "Hi" back to her before driving away. In the short time that I saw them, I had taken in as much as I could.  The baby in the stroller was buried under a giant pile of blankets; the dad and girl were dressed warm...puffy winter coats and ear muffs and hats.  It seemed like a little much for a warm October night.  I wondered where they were going.  Home, or just anyplace they could find for the night?  They were stuck in my mind, and I wished I knew.

Driving home, I continued to think of them, and was reminded of a phone conversation Keith and I had just hours earlier.  We had been talking about taking a trip this coming weekend, and the term "just $1,500" was repeatedly used.  Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming conviction.  God knew where He was sending me for that training tonight.  He knew about the man and the little girl I would pass on the street.  He wanted to open my eyes to something I haven't seen, or thought of, in awhile.  He knows that in my small, sheltered bubble in my small town, I tend to forget what is happening in the world around me.  And, He knew that I would have a 90 minute drive home in silence to think about it.

I stopped at the gas station part way home and opened Facebook as the tank filled.  The first post to appear on the screen read:
"I have COMPASSION for all these hungry people who have nothing to eat." -Jesus,  Mark 8:2 
To be like Jesus, feed the hungry.
I don't think those words were coincidentally on my news feed...

If asked the question, Keith and I would both agree that this has been a tough year for us financially.  I know that's kind of private information to some people, but I don't mind saying it, especially in this context. I guess we would use the term "tough" because we've had to stop, wait, and watch God provide for us when we did not see provision coming otherwise.  It's definitely been a "trust God" kind of year with finances.  Yet...we live in a beautiful home, we go on vacations, we enjoy a ton of hobbies, we stop to grab a burger or frozen yogurt or Starbucks whenever we want, and on and on.  Yes, all that, even during a "tough" financial year.  Suddenly, I'm ashamed to use that term.  

It seems we've gotten so far beyond what we need, and now we're surrounded by all the things we want as well.  When we wonder if we'll have all the things we "want", and realize we may have to say no to even one of them, our financial situation is classified as "tough".  A little girl and her dad were walking down a city street, bundled up, and whether or not they had a home to go to, there were hundreds and thousands and millions of other people I did not see who don't have a home, and who went to bed hungry.  All while I drive in my car, talking on my iPhone, about "just $1,500". And I think I have it tough.

There's no great ending to the story, like me turning around and finding that man and little girl, and learning their story.  I just drove home and shared what happened with Keith as tears ran down my face.  I updated my volunteer info for the Tacoma Rescue Mission and scheduled us to volunteer in the coming weeks.  I will think more closely about where my money and efforts are going for the present time.  I will actively look for ways to help others who have it legitimately "tough" as the winter comes and weather gets cold.  I'm thankful for the reminder God sent my way.  And I am asking Him to send me more just like it, because I don't think my oblivious, sheltered world is where He wants me to live.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sibling Rivalry

Merriam Webster defines sibling rivalry as competition between siblings, especially for the attention, affection, and approval of their parents.  Tonight, I got a pretty funny taste of it.

Keith and the 2 oldest boys are gone hunting.  This morning, Clay shot a nice mule deer.  Tonight, Cole shot a whitetail, also a nice buck.  Between countless conversations and sharing of  pictures, I guess I probably spent most of my day talking about them.  By about 8pm, Carson the Great decided to himself that he’d had enough.

We were on the way home from my mom’s house when he told me he was going to pull out his loose tooth.  I knew it wasn’t THAT loose because he had wiggled it for me earlier in the day.  So as he sat in the back seat, he talked and wiggled it, talked and yanked on it, talked and twisted it…until by the time we got home 10 minutes later, blood was gushing nicely and he jumped out of the car and proudly began spitting it everywhere to show me.  I told him to run inside to the bathroom, making him promise to keep his mouth closed until he got there. 

I don’t know if it’s just that he’s the third child, or that I don’t get as concerned over things as I used to, but I followed Carson into the bathroom, threatening to make him clean the whole bathroom if I discovered blood anywhere other than the sink…then left him there to keep on working  at that tooth as the blood continued to run out of his mouth.

When I got done unloading the car and was hauling the last arm full of whatever it is that always seems to appear out of nowhere every time I return home, I heard Carson screaming. He’d managed to twist the tooth completely sideways and get it stuck.  I guess it half hurt and half scared him, and…mostly out of being afraid of having to help him get it returned to normal position… I calmly told him he needed to either twist it back or keep pulling, and I went about whatever I was doing.  On the inside, I was completely grossed out, but figured it’d be better not to let him know.

After 5 more minutes of tooth pulling, then a shower, a book, and a number of bedtime stall tactics, the tooth was still attached.  See?  It really wasn’t ready to come out.  “Good,” I thought.  “All this can wait ‘til tomorrow and the tooth fairy can skip by our place tonight.”

Half an hour passed, and when I checked on Carson, he was still awake.  An hour passed.  Same thing.  A short time later, he came  running out, tooth in hand and smiling big.  I marveled at the new gap between his teeth, at his persistence in getting that tooth out, and he marched back to bed, chest out and feeling quite proud of his accomplishment.   Within another few minutes, he was fast asleep.

Such determination to keep up with one’s brothers causes kids to do crazy things, I guess.  There was no way that next day was going to come without Carson the Great having done something notable to keep up with his hunting brothers.  I guess that’s what you’d call sibling rivalry.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cards to Mali...

After VBS ended this summer, a few boxes of post-SKY parts and pieces remained in my car and garage for a couple of weeks.  Among the things in those boxes were stacks of cards to children in Mali...they were part of the mission project our kids had taken part in.  

This year was my favorite mission project to date...our VBS kids donated money to purchase mosquito nets for children in the African country of Mali...part of a nationwide campaign in partnership with World Vision to fully eradicate malaria in that country by the year 2015.  As our kids at VBS learned through the week that mosquito nets save the lives of kids just like them in other parts of the world, they jumped into action...bringing purses, pockets, and bags full of coins from their own piggy banks.  By the end of the week, an amazing amount of money had been donated.

Back to the cards...

Every time I looked at them after VBS, I would get frustrated that I didn't have the time just yet to package them up and ship them off.  They continued to sit in a box as I followed up on other things that seemed more important.  Then, one night, I got them out and began to package them up.  When I dropped the stack, I grumbled, and started re-organizing the pile once again.  The front of one card caught my eye.  It read:

"I love God.  Do you love God?"

Right at that moment, I realized that in the rush during and after VBS, I had not taken the time to look at the cards.  For the next hour, I sat at my dining room table, reading every awe of the hearts of hundreds of children that had been poured out onto each.  Crayola markers on bright construction paper were carrying a message of God's love and hope to children at risk of dying from malaria.

What I read were words of those who were unashamed to share their faith, who didn't skirt around the truth, who boldly wrote about our God who we all can trust, even in the worst times.  Honest, sincere, caring words of love that are the product of a childlike faith.

Here are an unedited few...

Dear kids in Mali.  I hope these nets keep you safe from the masquietios so you don’t get malaria.  No matter what happens trust God because He loves you.

God loves you no matter what.

Be strong and corages.  Don’t be afraid or discouraged for the Lord is with you.

God is thar for you.

Hi my name is Carsten.  My favorite food is pizza and my favorite sport is soccer.  Remember trust God.

I love you

God is loking aftr you ever day.

"I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Romans 8:38

To: Africa
From: Eddie
I hope the nets work.  I know how it feels when you are scared

God is olwase with you.  Jesus is olwase with you.

Dear Kid, Do you know who God is?  He is the one who made the universe.

Trust God.  He is amazing and powerful and real.

Dear people in Mali, You can trust God no matter who you are, no matter how you feel, no matter what people do, no matter what happens, no matter where you are.  God loves you.

I pray every night so you can heal.

God’s with you.  God loves you.  Love, Keagan

Whatever happens, trust God.  He will never stop loving you.  Jesus is always by your side.  Your friend, Brookelyn

Dear kids in Mali, Do you know God?  Well if you would like to live forever, accept the Lord. – Nadia

God has a plan for you.  From: Macie

As I finished up reading, it became clear that God planned for those cards to stay with me after VBS for a reason.  Had I sent them off right away, I would not have looked at them; I would have missed out on the words that will bring hope to children far away in the world.  I love the reminder that no matter how young, a person can change the life of another, with just so much as a few simple words.  When we allow kids to minister to others on their own, even without our coaching or instruction, we can be assured that God will do awesome things through them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Know Him Better

Over the past weekend I took a few hours to ride with Clay as he was raking pastures of hay.  My boy who, 12 years ago...or was it 12 blinks of my eye?...said his first word.  Would you believe it was "tractor"? 

He'd been alone on the field for about 6 hours when I got there, and welcomed me for a ride on the old John Deere.  Can much more joy overcome a mom whose almost teenage son is genuinely excited to see talk to spend time with her? 

Often a kid of few words, Clay began explaining the process to me.  Soon, I found myself asking questions and realized the boy I spent the past year teaching in home school was teaching me.  I asked if he would let me have a try.  Without hesitating to remind me of my past failures with machinery, he traded spots with me, and began giving instructions. 

There are a lot of things to remember when running machinery.  As he gave me every step needed before taking off, or when stopping, I kept thinking I should have a checklist.  To him, each step was just a perfectly natural order of how to make it all work.  I asked the same questions over and over, and he gave beautifully easy, logical answers each and every time.  He never sighed. Never rolled his eyes.  Never gave me that look.  As I listened, because I know it's unlikely my boys will ever turn me loose on a tractor alone, I was more interested in the quality of his teaching than the subject.  
What could I learn from his teaching?  A lot. 

 After a few laps with me behind the wheel, Clay moved back into the driver's seat.  I took my place sitting up on the fender again.  The noise from an open cab tractor working the fields is really loud.  Yet the clacking of the equipment was more like calm silence than anything I'd heard in as long as I could recall.  As we bounced along, I wanted to stay right there forever, in the noisiest peaceful place I could imagine.

 I know more about Clay than I did before our ride.  Spending time with him alone, not just anywhere, but in a place he loves, was right where I needed to be with him.  
He is growing up to become quite a young man.  
One who loves our Creator.  
Joyful.  Patient.  Strong.  Kind.  Hard working.  Confident.  
One I admire.

When it was time for me to leave, I hopped down and watched the tractor slowly make its way to the back corner of the field, where I could no longer see it.  As I started walking to the car, a flock of ducks flew overhead.  In the otherwise silence of the hay field, with the tractor now out of earshot, I could hear the loud wind under flapping wings.  No doubt, there is something about nature, standing in the middle of a field, that felt like God saying, "Stop and enjoy this one last thing before you move on, Brook."  And I did.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Favorite Time Is Here...

The first day of the season arrived today.  A couple months of prep work, planning, wrenching, fixing, buying, selling, and endless shop hours are over.  Well, mostly.  Now it's after dark, the shop lights are off - the first time in awhile, and replaced with headlights in the pasture.  

This is the season of late dinners. The anticipated text lets me know when it's time to have food waiting on the patio, and as politely as possible, it had better be ready on time.  There won't be much time to talk before the meal and bodies are gone and back into the tractors and pastures.  It's haying season.  My favorite time of year.

 Tonight when the herd sat down, it took just a few minutes to realize the little great one was missing.  As if on cue, we turned to a whooping sound far off in the pasture.  And there went running legs and waving arms, through the tall grass, rounding up the horses for the night.  Moments later he hopped into his seat and dug in.

My day started riding on the fender of the 2355, bouncing along beside the oldest.  Listening to his plans for the day as he mapped out field work aloud.  The whole time, keeping my eyes on my favorite mountain and thinking, "You are beautiful, and we are blessed".  This is the time of year that makes up for gray, cloudy days and seemingly endless rain.

These boys of ours are young farmers to be proud of.  Each of them, even the smallest, more capable of ranch work than many grown men.  Early mornings and late nights while the weather holds are just part of the deal, and done with a smile.  Because they love it, I guess.  The Ranch Boss is out early and out late, tan neck and arms, and happier than ever.

I get to work in the garden, the yard, the flowerbeds, and keep the food coming when I'm called. Oh, and wrestle hay bales soon...the best part.  I sort of hide from the rest of the world and soak up every moment of peace and hard work and sunshine.  Don't take it personally, and don't worry, if you don't hear from me.  I'm doing just fine, enjoying my favorite time. :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Bike Ride With Carson The Great

His newest trick...

Today was one of those days in western Washington that we experience more often than I like.  Rain, rain, clouds, mist, and then more rain.

Carson spent the better part of the day playing in the house, and by tonight, he decided that no matter what the weather was like, he and I needed to go for a bike ride.  The rain was coming down sideways at the point where he began some serious begging, but I gave in and we took off.  The funny thing about our weather is that it looks nasty from inside a warm, cozy house, but once you're out in it, it's really not all that bad.

For the next half hour or so, Carson told me exactly how I needed to ride and what to do next.  I love his sense of adventure. 
"Mom, ride as FAST as you can.  I want to see how fast that bike can go."
And so I would ride as fast as I could, and he would catch up with a big, proud grin.
After a time of riding fast, weaving in and out, and racing each other, he moved on to showing me tricks.

Wheelies came first.  Carson would show an example, I'd copy, and then he'd praise me.  Every time I tried, success or not, I heard, "Good job, mom."  Love that kid. :)
After wheelies came a number of other tricks, beginning simple and finally ending in some contorted position hanging off one side of the bike while I was still supposed to keep it traveling quickly down the road.  Right there it got a little too technical for me.

We rode on a bit longer, the rain now replaced by a cold, sideways wind, and even though I was shivering and my teeth were chattering, Carson was happy as could be.  He showed me his newest skill...riding along while standing on his seat.  The entire time, he explained everything he was doing in great detail.  And, he crashed pretty hard a couple of times, but would jump up, yelling, "That was cool!"

Getting some riding "lessons" from my 5 year old tonight made me think about how this is just the start of many years of me learning from him.  That's got to be one of the coolest things about being a parent...learning as much, or more, from your kids than they learn from you.  After tonight's ride it occurred to me that they're never too young to start teaching us.  I can't help but wonder what will be next. :)