Today is my 3rd-born son's 8th birthday. We celebrated with a big party on Tuesday (25 kids and about 15 parents) at an amusement park in Irvine called "Boomers". The party went from 2 in the afternoon to 7 at night, and Noah had a blast. I was drained, but happy that I had the "success" of his happiness. (I am also aware of our culture's tendency to worship our children, and came far closer to that with this birthday party than I should have. I did not expect that level of attendance when I planned and invited. I will take care going forward that our celebrations of our children's milestones do not verge into consuming resources and expectations and time that God would choose to use in other ways!)

We celebrated Thanksgiving by eating at a restaurant -- for the first time in my 23 years of motherhood. My husband and 15-year-old stepson were driving to Las Vegas in the late afternoon for a weekend ball tournament, and I didn't want to cook in the morning, because I wanted to be at church -- so I made the reservation weeks ago. (As it was, I missed church, because I ate something yesterday afternoon that gave me a dose of food poisoning like 20 doses of one of those colon-cleansing enemas -- and so I was doing well today to just get my husband and I and our two little ones to the restaurant for our 2 p.m. reservation.) It was a nice meal, but very strange to "celebrate" Thanksgiving in a way that didn't fit my whole idea of celebrating Thanksgiving. But lives change, don't they? And then Steven and Cody left for Vegas, and Noah and Brooks and I were left to have a good holiday weekend in peace.

Mike -- on the east coast for his 2nd year of law school -- called early to wish Noah "happy birthday" and to inform me he had turned down Thanksgiving celebrations to study, and was happy doing just that. I called Josh -- in his senior year of college in the midwest -- and found that he had chosen to stay at his frat house for the day rather than visit any family or his girlfriend. And Cody and Tyler -- my 2 stepsons -- celebrated with their mom, and so Steven and I had a sparse day, in terms of the company of family. My mom and dad didn't have any of us kids join them, either, but invited friends over.

What a strange jump from the days of all of us cousins and uncles and aunts together in the small spaces of my grandparent's farm house! Changing values lead to changed celebrations. But -- I hope! -- we all still love to be together when we can pull it off. As much as the holidays with all 6 kids were stressful, they were precious -- and I am guessing they will be few and far between from here on out.

So now I have these days of "Noah and Brooks" time, with breaks for a movie with Diane tomorrow evening and for the Dead Sea Scrolls trip on Saturday and for church on Sunday . . . and I know that the earliest that Cody's tournament will be over is at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with a drive from Las Vegas in the way of Steven getting home and getting sleep before the week starts again Monday morning. What a strange "paradigm shift" from my idea of the life I would like my boys to know . . . but this is life, and Jesus' Kingdom comes to me in the present moment.

I am mostly grateful today for my 4 boys -- Mike, Josh, Noah, and Brooks -- and for the Triune God's presence in the present moment and His ability to write a good story, even with elements of tragedy, evil, grief, and hypocrisy mixed in with the elements of beauty and power and grace. I am still learning that -- even though I cannot control God and make Him my tool to get the "story" I would write with my life -- I can learn to let God more fully control me, and write His story so that I am a person inhabited by His love and grace and mercy more than a person who is destructive or mean even though well-intentioned. I am also learning that His grace extends to the mean and destructive and hypocritical, and can be extended through me even when I am the intended target, and for that I am grateful!

I am thankful that His justice first brings the TRUTH finally into full view, and then His grace and mercy bring the reconciliation and healing that can only come with a full disclosure of all that went on in the hearts and minds on all sides, as well as in the hidden and open actions and words.

I am glad that He values all people, and teaches me to be His tool of love in the lives of my family, friends, acquaintances, enemies, and all those "invisible" people around me. I'm glad that I can trust that He is at work to make this that kind of world -- where people don't just talk about love and justice, but actually live them.

Most of all, I am grateful for the people in my life. They are His primary call upon my life. They are His primary provision for me. And they are His greatest value, so my impact on each one of them is His primary criteria for judging my life.

I am thankful that He is the One Who can provide the wisdom, motivation, words, and actions that will allow His love to flow through me to them.

Life is all about people. Forget that, and you miss living. Forget that, and you never really knew Jesus.


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