Sunday, May 31, 2015

Too Wise to Be Mistaken, Too Good to Be Unkind

Around the time we adopted the middle trio (Christina, Faith and Hope) from Russia in 2005, God, in His providence, led me to a gem of a book that I've read and reread a number of times as we parent special needs children. In Too Wise to Be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend with Autism, Cathy Steere opens her heart and shares the story of her family's painful and often-times confusing journey to their oldest son's autism diagnosis.

Although none of our children are on the autism spectrum, I've still found the book's raw honesty about the faith struggle the couple endured helpful. Parenting developmentally-delayed and disabled children as we're doing can stir up big questions about God's love, goodness and wisdom!

One of the ways that Cathy and her husband endured the spiritual confusion was to cling to truths about God's loving sovereignty captured in an old hymn sung at their church. I'm so glad she shares the lyrics in her book, the words have been a balm to my soul a number of times, too:

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
Holy his will abideth;
I will be still whate'er he doth,
And follow where he guideth:
He is my God;
Though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to him I leave it all.

Whate're my God ordains is right
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path;
I know he will not leave me
I take, content, what he hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait his day.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking:
My God is true,
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet am I not forsaken;
My Father's care
Is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to him I leave it all.
(Words by Samuel Rodigast, translated by Catherine Winkworth)


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Submit to my Husband? Me?!? 3 Helpful Books

Friends, I entered our marriage in 1983 thinking that the concept of submitting to one's husband was arcane at best. Well...truthfully, I entered our marriage thinking that "submit" was a four-letter word. I thought the concept was ridiculous, despite the fact that I was a Christian. I was thoroughly steeped in our culture's view of a wife's submission.

When we'd been married about 17 years, I was blessed to build a friendship with a fellow homeschool mom who knew her Bible a whole lot better than I did. As the bond between us grew, I began to see a sweetness and tenderness and respect in her attitude toward her husband that I lacked. This dear friend and I spent much time together during that season of our parenting. Our husband's jobs had taken both our families to England for a season. As homeschooling ex-pats, we didn't have many British friends. Thus we spent nearly every Wednesday afternoon together. Our kiddos were similar ages and spent hours playing imagination games together. And Sheila and I talked and talked while enjoying tall glasses of Diet Coke over plenty of ice. My curiosity regarding submission was peaked by her quiet example.

Eventually I began to ask how she had made peace with this biblical concept that our culture HATES, and she led me to books that opened my eyes to God's teaching. I was astounded. Having my ear attuned to the siren song of our culture had resulted in me sailing all too close to dangerous rocks as a wife. I was harming our marriage by insisting on my own way, instead of living God's way.

I kept reading. I also purposed to dig into God's word for myself. Slowly, I began to change as a wife. And our marriage began to change -- for the better. If you were to ask Mr. R, he would say that our 17th year of marriage was a real turning point in the unity between us. He is so grateful for Sheila's influence on my spiritual walk.

I'd like to tell you that once my eyes were open, my arrogance regarding leading in our marriage and home disappeared. But, that hasn't been the case. The "Eve" in me keeps wanting to lead my husband away from God to the forbidden fruit. Any time I take the reins in our marriage, our marriage and family suffer.

As a result, I have continued to look for books that remind me of  GOD'S WAY FOR A WIFE. The Lord has blessed that search. The three books listed here have blessed me and my man! Wives, I highly recommend them. I also want to encourage young women and teen girls who hope to marry some day to read these titles. Your marriage will start off with a far greater beauty and grace than is possible when the wife fights submitting to her husband!

Is There a Moose in Your Marriage by Nancy Cobb and Connie Grigsby
This was one of the first books I read that made submission seem not only understandable, but doable.This book is written by two women whose marriages had suffered desperately until they came to understand their role as wives as God commands. It's a delightful read, spiced with humor and yet profound in its counsel. This book really opened my eyes to HOW I could submit when my nature fights against it. I have reread this book numerous times.

Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior by Kimberly Wagner
This book rocked my world just two years ago. After all my study on submission, I truly thought I was a living in an ongoing way of submission to Mr. R as the God-ordained head of our household. However, I had slipped into subtle ways of undermining his leadership... I was undermining him in ways to which I was completely blind. Reading this book brought a strong-yet-tender rebuke from God. Kimberly shares the story of how the fierceness she failed to recognize actually changed the personality of the man with whom she'd fallen in love and married. As I read this book, I was startled to realize that I am a fierce woman! I, too, was changing the personality of my beloved husband... and not for the better! I would actually credit this powerful and biblical read with helping to lift our marriage out of a pit we'd fallen into after more than a quarter century as husband and wife. Kimberly clearly expounds on how we can be women of great strength -- world-changers even -- while also being godly, submissive wives.

My So-Called Life as a Submissive Wife: A One-Year Experiment and Its Liberating Results
by Sara Horn

Last year some time, I actually grabbed this book at a truck stop on a lark. I was just curious to see another Christian author's take on the biblical concept of submission. The book is a fun read. Sara writes with much humor about her year-long experiment with truly trying to obey God's word regarding submitting to her husband. I don't want to give away too much about what she learned, but one change that slowly began to emerge was that the more she submitted, the more her husband stepped up and filled the spiritual-leadership vacuum that had frustrated her for 14 years. I found this to be a convicting quote:
"What God says, He means. We need to read His word. Not take the word of other people who read it but read it for ourselves...
"Do we follow God or do we follow ourselves?
"Think about it.
"If we're just following ourselves--if we ask God's help only when we want it and ignore the rest of what He says--we don't really have a relationship with Christ. We just have a bunch of rules we've made up and pretend to follow until we don't want to. But a relationship with Christ means giving all of myself.
"Serving God isn't easy. But He loves us. Unconditionally. Relentlessly. And it's not that hard to follow Someone who loves you. Knowing Him and serving Him makes things much more clear." (Pg. 114) 
It is my prayer that these books will bless you as they have me. Jim and I are in our 32nd year of marriage and more deeply in love than ever. I thank God for the wisdom with which He has filled each of these authors who have helped me to be a far better wife to my man.

May God richly bless you and keep you, friends,
Denise Reynolds

Friday, May 29, 2015

Pizza Picnic!!!

We home school all year round. That way when opportunities to travel or to entertain guests come up, we have the flexibility to adjust our schedule and adapt. Since we do school all year round, we also have the ability to go a bit lighter on Fridays.

We have also traditionally scheduled the many many orthodontist appointments the kids have had through the years on Fridays. On beautiful summer days like today, we indulge in one of our favorite treats: a pizza picnic. Little Caesars Pizza is just down the street from our orthodontist. Little Caesars sells their LARGE pizzas for a mere $5--perfect for an extra large family! Yippee!!! Yahoo!!! A super easy meal in the city's rose garden shared with one's favorite people...the blessings abounded!

I took advantage of the beautiful day and the green backdrop to practice my photography skills on three of the girls. I'll have to catch the others another time.

This pizza picnic was a quick one before other Friday appointments took precedence over fun and fellowship. We all sure enjoyed the return to a relished family tradition.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Josh and Zhenya: A Visit to Relish

The great joy of our Memorial Day weekend was a visit from Josh, Zhenya's fiance. His four days here gave me a number of opportunities to photograph the two of them.

Thursday night the whole family made the trip to the Omaha airport to pick him up.

The next afternoon, Josh and Zhenya went to the Recorder's Office to file for their marriage license.

When they were finished, they were happy.

The architecture of the buildings that surround the courthouse is some of the most beautiful in town. We took advantage of the scenery and a lovely afternoon to take a few engagement pictures.

Poor Zhenya, though. She was in pain. Just before the trip downtown, she'd visited our orthodontist. She went to get her retainers tightened, and left with braces back on her lower teeth to turn one of her front teeth which was twisting out of position. With each smile for these photos, she was scraping the inside of her lower lip over all that metal.

When Zhenya saw this picture that I caught of her grimace, she said, "You can post that. I love that Josh and I feel so comfortable around each other that we can be real with one another." I'm thrilled to watch a love that will need to endure many hardships and trials during their years together grow between them.

Zhenya was a trooper, though, and went right back to smiling.

Then yesterday, we returned to Omaha for Josh's return home. We had enough time before his flight for the family to enjoy an outdoor lunch at the Spaghetti Work restaurant in the beautiful Old Market in the downtown area. While we waited for our food I took advantage of an unusual sight in Nebraska -- a bright red British phone booth.

We started with a bit of fun suggested by Josh.

They then practiced a dance move with phone booth as a backdrop. Before they know it they will be "dancing through the minefields" together for life. God is so good!

And all too soon, it was time to head to the airport for Josh's departure. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Good in the Hard

Mr. R. shared these stark-yet-reassuring words at breakfast this morning before church:

 "In affliction God reveals the unknown corruptions in the hearts of His people: pride, impatience, unbelief, idolatry, distrust of God, murmuring, and unthankfulness. Sin lies very close and deep and is not easily discovered until the fire of affliction comes. The furnace discovers the dross. In the furnace we see more corruptions than was ever suspected. What self-love is there boiling and fretting within me, what pride, distrust in God, creature-confidence, discontent, murmuring, rising against the holy and righteous dispensations of God! Woe is me, what a heart I have!" (Thomas Case, Select Works, A Treatise of Afflictions, pp. 28-32 as quoted in Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, Richard Rushing, compiler)
Precious reader, God is in the hard. In our hard, God is molding us into the image of His son. In our hard, we become more like Jesus. In our hard, there is GOOD!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

She's Come a Long Way

To Our Dear Readers,

I promise I'm working on the third post in the trilogy about Josh proposing to Zhenya. I apologize for the delay!

While you wait, I thought I'd share a photo of Zhenya taken about 3 months after she was adopted from Russia in 2001. (She's on the far left.) This picture was our first Christmas card photo as a newly formed family of eight.

May God bless and keep you!

Children from left to right - Zhenya 8, John 9, Sarah 7, Anna 11, Alison 9, Matt 6

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Josh and Zhenya: Engagement Photos!

Josh and Zhenya's engagement story, Part 3, is coming soon. While you wait, our dear readers, here are some photos taken of the couple the evening of their engagement.These were taken on the beautiful acreage that Josh's parents own in rural Tennessee. We were blessed to visit at the greenest time of the year. The setting was indescribably beautiful!

As a momma, I love the joy Josh brings out in our Zhenya! He's a gem!!!

The backdrop for the rest of these pictures is the Castilles' barn ~ a photographer's dream!

Did I mention the thrill I get for seeing the joy that Josh has introduced into Zhenya's life?

I learned during this shoot what a ham Josh can be!

To God be the glory!

Monday, May 18, 2015

God Numbers Your Sighs and Bottles up Your Tears

Mr. R read this quote by a Redwood of the faith to us this morning as we shared brunch before church. We found it quite encouraging. I hope you, too, are blessed by the words of Puritan Richard Baxter.

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them."
Revelation 21:3

"The glorious and infinite God, who made the worlds, and upholds them by his word, who is praised continually by His heavenly hosts; this God, has sent to you a joyful message to raise you from the dust, and banish the terrors and troubles from your hearts, and help you to live like the sons of God. 

"He takes notice of your sorrows. He stands close by when you do not see Him and feel He has forsaken you. He attends you with the greatest tenderness when you say He has forgotten you. He numbers your sighs and bottles up you tears. He feels the groans of your heart...

"But soon, our Redeemer, will return return to give you such a convincing demonstration of His love as to leave no room for doubt. Your comforts are now a taste, but then, they shall be a feast. How soon do our conquered fears return, and what inconstancy and unevenness is there in our peace! Then, our peace will be perfect and permanent. We shall then enjoy Him continually.

"O Christians, our comforts should be more abundant, but we do make a mistake by expecting too much on earth. Our true rest in heaven will be our peace indeed. Looking off to these yet unseen blessings is an eminent part of our faith. It is in the apprehension and expectation of our yet unseen heavenly blessings that our earthly and safety depend. O that Christians were careful to live with one eye on Christ crucified, and the other on His glory!"
Richard Baxter, Practical Works, 11:884-885
Voices from the Past, Edited by Richard Rushing

Saturday, May 16, 2015

He Proposed with a Frisbee, Part 2

In He Proposed With a Frisbee, Part 1, I shared a couple of the reasons that I have struggled to write this post about the day Josh and Zhenya got engaged. Since that time, I've realized that there is yet another reason for my prolonged writer's block, and it's this: I've never witnessed a proposal before. How does one describe a moment that carries such emotion? How does one attach words to an event that will affect generations to come? How does one even begin to plumb the depths of the delicate drama associated with this particular turning point in two young lives? How does one convey the engagement of another when that 'other' is your very own daughter. I fear that my ability as a writer my fail me here.

However, despite whatever inadequacies my storytelling my demonstrate, I'm going to give this a try. So as the trite expression goes, let me begin at the beginning.

Josh and Zhenya first met in the summer of 2013 at the wedding of Josh's brother, Sean. Zhenya was already fast friends with Rachel, Josh and Sean's younger sister. Then last summer, the entire Castille family came to stay with us for nearly a week. During those days of fellowship and fun, a strong bond grew between the two families. We found we had much in common, starting with adoptions of Russian children on both sides! Friendship blossomed between the Reynolds and Castille families. And a few days after the Castilles returned to Tennessee, Josh called Mr. R, asking if he could court Zhenya.

Since then, numerous visits back and forth have taken place, as well as emails and phone calls. Josh has sought the Lord's wisdom through the courtship, as has Zhenya. They've grown together in the Lord. They're love of God has grown stronger as their love for one another slowly began to bud and then blossom. Eventually, Josh knew what he wanted. He longed to spend the rest of his life with Zhenya at his side.

Josh sought Mr. R's permission to propose, and Zhenya's daddy was happy to give his, "Yes!" Mr. R had spent months getting to know Josh through his own phone calls and emails. After Josh received a hearty endorsement, he revealed that the desire of his heart was for both families to be able to witness his proposal to Zhenya. Since the Reynolds were soon due to visit the Castilles, the time was ripe! And, friends, Josh developed a plan for his proposal that fit Zhenya to a tee!

Josh had been studying Zhenya (as we pray he always will). The oldest of our Russian adoptees enjoys all things athletic, and she loves playing Ultimate Frisbee. Josh took this knowledge of Zhenya and got very creative. He had a Frisbee custom made with words, "Will You Marry Me?" emblazoned on the top. He even chose her favorite color, purple. for this special message-carrying disk. Josh shared with both sets of parents that his plan was to get the numerous siblings from both families playing Ultimate Frisbee. Then he would grab his custom Frisbee and toss it to the woman he loved. His hope was she would realize that the Frisbee was new and READ IT!

And his prayer? That she would say YES, of course!!!

On Saturday during the week of our visit, the two families made our way back to the quaint, historic town of Bell Buckle. This time, instead of antiquing, as we'd done the day before we laid out the making of a delicious picnic. The meal was leisurely. As I watched, I could only wonder at Josh's thoughts as he did his best to keep calm!

Rachel was also in on Josh's secret plan, but she gave no sign of it to Zhenya.

No one seemed in any particular hurry. We just sat around and chatted. Poor Josh! To carry out his plan he needed this large group of friends up and active, eager for a game.

Then came an unexpected twist for the Southern gent. The Northerners discovered something they'd never seen before ~ a Crawfish.

Eeeeek!!! OOOooouuuuHHH!!! And to think... southerners consider these things a delicacy? They actually eat these things?

And all of a sudden...

...the woman Josh longed to propose to was racing across the enormous park with Josh's brother to hunt for the creatures so enticing to little boys. Now what was Josh to do???

Stay tuned for: "He Proposed with a Frisbee, Part 3"!