A Bushel of Brooks

A Bushel of Brooks
Us as we are ...

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bushel Back in Action

Sometimes life is wonderful and full and busy ... and that is where I have found myself in the last several months. We have been working on an addition to our house, Eli's workload at work is a bit ramped up, and life with four boys at home, summer activities, work, and all that goodness has definitely filled my days! And I let this slide for awhile.

But it hasn't left the back on my mind. I don't really expect that many people read my blog ... but I write here to have some method of writing down memories and little things that we want to remember and be able to look back and smile upon. To laugh at little boy things, be thankful as we are reminded of God's faithfulness in our lives, and have some thoughts preserved! Otherwise, I know that I won't remember!!! So, my hope and plan is to get back at it.

And I want to start with writing about Jonah. My oldest boy.

He seems to suddenly have grown so much. He's going into 4th grade this year. We have changes coming up for this boy. He is going to transition from homeschooling to Veritas this year. BIG CHANGE!

As the spring semester went on, I just felt like he and I could truly use a change. He is a really good boy. But I felt the tension of being teacher and mommy wearing on both of us. And not that it was an insurmountable situation, but my heart was to continue our great connection as mother and son. And sometimes my being teacher really strained our days together. And so Eli and I talked about sending him to Veritas. And then we kind of shelved that discussion because we weren't sure financially it was even an option for us. But, I still had the desire (and my social Jonah really wants to go to school!), and so I prayed. And just kept praying.

And then in June, Eli suggested we just send in the paperwork and see how it all started to land. And I was so excited! It was a process, and we were waiting on some questions from their financial board to be answered, but long story short, it is going to work out for him to go! It is still, in many ways, a step of faith for us to take the dive, but we believe it is the right timing for him.

And we are still committed to praying each year, and taking each year at a time. This doesn't mean he will go there forever, but it means he will go this year. We get to go school shopping for the first time, and he's thinking about new friends he will meet ... it is fun!

Yes, we're totally going to be those parents that have that choked-up feeling in their throat. Both Eli and I. Probably most families experience this in kindergarten, and here we will be with a 4th grader. I will feel like crying! I have loved having my boys home with me and seeing them learn. But I also know it is time for Jonah to experience something different, having someone else really working with him on math, spelling, english, history, etc. And I can be the support.

And I can spend some quality time with Reuben - and that second born boy could truly use those moments with Mommy.

Jonah played baseball for the first time this year, which he loved. We were so thankful he was able to play on a team with some friends that he knew, and some other really really great boys his age. Eli and I have always said we weren't going to be a baseball family ... but I'm kind of thinking that is about to change in the Brooks house. There are three other boys who are now carrying around mitts, balls, and swinging the bat at pitches whenever they get the chance.

And so I look at my blond boy, and I still give him as many hugs as he will let me (thankfully, he still doesn't mind snuggles with Mom every now and then). I've seen those pictures of him, a little round-cheeked one year old, and my heart has wrenched knowing that the time has passed fast. So I look forward to this next season with both anticipation, and a bit of sadness, knowing that he has already put a lot of childhood behind him.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Family Time

Last weekend my Uncle Phil came from Texas for a quick visit. We were already planning to get together on Saturday to celebrate March birthdays (we have quite a few!), but it made it extra special that he was able to be there with us.

Since KU is advancing in the NCAA tournament, everyone wore KU shirts, and our goal was to get some family pictures. You know, we have 9 kids between us: ages 9 and under. And getting them all to smile and be happy for pictures is somewhat of a challenge! But we had fun anyway. Of course it was a freezing day, and so we were running inside and out, shivering, but smiling!

We're missing Selah in this picture = (
I truly love my family. Our get togethers are somewhat chaotic, there of often one little kiddo getting upset about something or another, but at the same time, we can just hang with it! I look around at my parents, my siblings, our significant others, and now our kids running around ... it is AWESOME! No other way to describe it. I am so grateful to have them all in my life. Can't imagine life without each and every one of them.

All of us together!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring Retreat

Last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Eli and I took the youth group -the youth that could come -on our annual spring retreat. We're carrying on the tradition of a prayer and fasting retreat that our youth pastors' began 19 years ago! Wow! So amazing to be a part of the heritage being built into the youth of Lawrence, Kansas.

I think each year we learn more, apply things that we wanted to tweak from the last year, and continue to grow ourselves. We are so imperfect ourselves, that it is always amazing to see the Lord work in spite of who we are, and show up in a mighty way.

This year felt like the best yet. Our college staff really rallied around us. They prayed. They fasted, They worshiped. Alongside us with their whole hearts. As we ministered with them, God just continued to fill us all up. And although we came home physically tired (hellooooo late nights!), we didn't feel wasted. I felt so alive!

And there have been years in which I look back, and there were teens that came, but held back. The reasons don't necessarily matter at this point, but it was a struggle for them to engage. To let down their walls. And I often spent time and energy chasing after them. Talking to them. Encouraging them to fully participate with us. And I believe that even those times planted seeds in their life that they will look back on and remember that God does indeed love them. But it still added a different element into the flow of the retreat. But this year everyone just was all in. Each youth was there because they wanted to be. And even those that were newer to the group jumped right in and became a part of the group. It was so beautiful to watch.

My boys did great at home with babysitters cycling through, and I didn't have to worry one moment about them. I was able to enjoy those three days away. It was like a breath of fresh air to me. No house to clean for three days. No meals to cook. No laundry to do (yes, all of those things were waiting for me back home, but it was GREAT to have a few days without them constantly being in front of me!). Three days away from work. Just to really seek the presence of God.

I am going to treasure those three days. Some great memories made. And I loved having the opportunity to really spend time with the girls from Outstretch and continue to build relationship with them. I am already looking forward to the next one!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

His Faithfulness Endures

Nothing like a reminder about God's faithfulness in our lives. Seriously.

I have been working on sorting through my pictures on my computer and getting them filed away appropriately and backed up online and all that. I'm a little behind! = ) The boys keep asking me when I am going to get our 2014 family photo book done ... yikes. That is how far behind I am. In actuality, it doesn't take me that much time. I just need to sit down for about half an hour for a few days and I can easily get myself caught up. It is just the tyranny of the urgent seems to usually trump those projects!

But, the boys are getting closer and closer to the end of the school year, and within 3-4 weeks, some of their subjects will be done. That doesn't mean I won't think of other things to learn to keep us busy! But, it does mean that hopefully in March and April I can finish up the photos and get myself completely caught up. One can hope.

As I was working on it the other, I saw this:

And what a reminder! Gosh, that was so exciting when the official "contract pending" sign went up on our house AND when everything went through! We sold that sweet little house full of memories to move on. But that was after a year of trying to sell, taking the house off the market, making a major foundation repair ... and then completely releasing it to God. I had held it so tightly in my own hands, wanting it to happen on my terms, in my time. Sound familiar? We've all been there. I know I have been there too many times!

When Eli and I both finally were broken before the Lord, willing to lay the entire desire to move in His hands and say it was fine if it NEVER happened, then He made a way. His way. His timing.

He brought us to such a great neighborhood. There is hardly a day goes by that I don't thank Him for this house, these specific neighbors, and this place. The boys are thriving here. There are Christian friends to play with, non-Christian friends to play with and witness to. We love it here!

And yet I want it to stay in the right place. I'm so so thankful for what God did. But at the same time? It is just a house. I hope we get to stay here a long time, but we are keeping it in the correct place in our hearts. Should God call us to go somewhere else, we will go. And while we are here, we want to stay focused that we are here to be a light!

The truth is that there are still days that bring about circumstances or challenges that cause me to question God's faithfulness. I wish I could say differently! But, I am still being formed and changed to be more like Him. But what He did for us with the house was a mark in our past that I cannot forget - nor do I want to! I can look back, point to it, and say "God was and is and will be faithful." End of statement. That is the truth. And that causes my own faith level to rise again and look towards what might feel tough with renewed vision and focus - focus on the faithfulness of God to see me through. That's where I am today. Filled with thanksgiving towards Him, who is able to do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jumping in with both feet

I'm not quite sure how it is already January 28th! The days go by ... and although there are certainly moments in my days that feel like the minutes are barely ticking away, I am amazed at how fast this month has gone. And how full it has been!

We REALLY enjoyed our Christmas break. Eli had more time at home, and the boys and myself needed our break from homeschooling. I got to take off the "teacher" hat and just be Mommy. Which was a breather on both ends! Needless to say, the first few days getting back into the school swing of things might have been a bit rough = ) We made it, and now the routine and rhythm seems back to normal. The boys gave me some pushback that first week.

Some of my most precious moments this month as I look back have been with Matthias. He is at a great stage. Still a little boy, but growing so much in mind and heart. He wakes up every morning and hopes to find Eli reading his Bible in the recliner. Crawls right up into Eli's lap and just wants to snuggle. Those mornings when Eli is early at work or at the gym, I make sure to find a moment to wrap my arms around that little brown haired boy and give him lots of kisses. He is often running to catch up with the two bigger boys, and I strive to ensure each day he (all of them!) gets a bit of one on one time with Mommy.

But at bedtime? At bedtime it is Mommy that he wants. And so I lay next to him to sing the EXACT SAME THREE SONGS that he wants every night and to pray over him. But nearly every night, he interrupts me about halfway through the first song to talk. He wants to talk. He wants to ask questions. And how they make me smile! For about three nights in a row, it was all about who he was going to marry. Mommy? No, Mommy is already married to Daddy. Ms. Betty? No, Ms. Betty is already married to Mr. Ed. And so then I had to tell him he will marry somebody around his own age ... and to that information his eyes opened wide: "I never thought of that before!" And we have had to discuss over and over that he can't really pick who he is going to marry right now. And he finally decided that at age 22 - he'll pick his bride!

We've also had long discussions about Rome and Romans. Because of various Bible stories and acting out of Bible stories at church, he has questions upon questions about Rome (think Roman soldiers, Jesus' crucifixion, etc). Are there bad guys there? Do they live in houses? Do they have food? Can he go to Rome someday? Are they still "hunting" Christians in Rome? Are there nice people in Rome? And on and on and on we go. This topic comes up at bedtime, in car rides, and any other random moment you can think of. Yesterday I finally reassured him that someday he can go to Rome if he really wants to! And he was so thrilled! And then had to be reassured that yes, there is water there to drink and food to eat and even houses to stay in.

And at bedtime after I redirect him back to his songs and we pray, then he relaxes and is asleep within minutes. And I look at those cheeks that still have some chubbiness, his long brown eyelashes, and just want to give him one more kiss.

Thankfully, no one my boys are yet too old to love Mommy and love hugs and snuggles. But I also see how the 6 and 8 year olds are busy. They are lean, muscular, and don't have any of that toddler fat left! And it causes me to - rightfully so - take time to pause and appreciate the little ones. Remember that this is such a fleeting moment in their lives. Not that each stage isn't wonderful! They are. But this halfway between toddlerhood and boyhood is special. The days are full and go by fast, but I hold these memories tight.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas brought sooooo many good memories this year! We had our family Christmas together on Christmas Eve morning. For the first year (with probably many to follow!), we let the boys sleep in sleeping bags in the living room by the light of our Christmas tree. There was MUCH excitement in the room! My dad came over and read stories and sang Christmas carols with us to them that night. Since we both have big families, Eli and I really work to keep what we spend on the boys under control. They don't need big amounts of money spent on them. The focus is on giving to each other, enjoying gifts, and realizing that Jesus needs to be the center of our celebrations! It also helps that they are still young ... expensive electronic gifts are not at the top of their lists - yet! They love LEGOS, and board games, and small toys in stockings. Those things still bring big grins!

Ready for Stockings!

All three big boys got Daddy a rubber mallet!
It was fun to hear them stirring around 6am, and then have Jonah tiptoeing into our room to see if we were awake (we were). Such a sweet family time that morning!

Jonah got them mustaches = )
Christmas Day we headed by 8am to Eli's parents house, just as we have done year after year. Our family has grown and grown, and I believe there were 22 of us there Christmas morning this year! That means present-opening can take quite awhile, but we enjoy it! We came home by 1 for some much needed nap/down time for ALL of us!

Uncle Seth, Aunt Ann, and Aunt Joy with the boys
Silly brothers
Sweet cousins
At 4 we headed over to Ed and Betty's house. Dear friends of ours. They were having an open house for family and friends to come over and have snacks and play games! We couldn't miss it. We were only able to stay about 45 minutes, but I am so glad we dropped by.

And then headed from their to my extended family's Christmas dinner. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and family we don't get to see all the time! Not everyone can make it every year, but I treasure the time with whoever can be there! My Opa and Oma would be so thrilled that the family continues to make time to get together a few times a year, no matter how big or spread out the Willems clan gets.

Exhausted? Yep! But, still happy. The boys were still wriggling with excitement because there was ONE MORE CHRISTMAS. Opa and Oma's. We let them sleep in the living room one more time = ) Why not? Before long the Christmas tree will be down and it won't even be an option anymore. I figured they could have naps if they needed it! We had so much fun with my family.

My dad and Abram
And then? And it was Saturday afternoon and we were five Christmas celebrations behind us. Full of good food, good company, and lots of love. I was exhausted (I am quite a bit of an introvert and that was a lot of people time!), but it was such a great weekend. We all came away with wonderful memories and I am still smiling when I think back on all those celebrations!

My brother, Isaac and Selah
The Willems!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trying to Slow Down

Just when the year seems to ramp up its pace (hellooooo holidays!), I feel the urge and desire within me to s.l.o.w. everything down. I know there are many people who are not as fond of holidays, or maybe the holiday time is tough because of family members no longer around. Or perhaps it feels more like a lonely time. And my heart aches for those around me that are walking that path.

And so I want to draw them in. Into what? Into the beauty that I believe is in this month.

But the so-called "hustle and bustle" is surely trying to suck us all in. Suck my boys into the wanting and getting of it all. And I want to see past all that. I want them to see past all that.

See the babe lying in the manger. See the greatest gift of all. Realize that all these gifts and goodies around us are suppose to be just a physical reminder of the gift of God's son coming earth! I want it to stir our hearts to give to others. To be an extension of God's love throughout this season. And not just consumers.

We get to do so many fun things in December. A Christmas advent countdown that Eli started for me before the boys were even born (isn't he awesome?); gift shopping for family and friends; singing along to Christmas songs in the van and at home; practicing for the church program; wrapping presents; watching Christmas movies; and the list could go on and  on!

First day of Advent countdown - no one can smile normally!
But what I really want my little family to get a hold of is the deeper message of hope. And to find it, I know that we have to slow down and take the time to reflect. Maybe some think that four little boys make such a lofty goal impossible. I say no.

Amidst their short attention spans and light saber fights, they have childlike faith. They experience wonder. I just want to catch it. Rein it in, even in short moments each day, and sit together to talk about how Spirit became flesh and walked among us. Ask them how they can extend love and kindness to those around us who really, really need to see it demonstrated. Sure, sometimes their answers are off the mark, but at the same time, my little boys know what it is to feel love. They are loved. They know it! I want to draw from that and teach them to find in their everyday moments, an opportunity to give it to others.

I know I fail miserably. And so will they. And the Lord keeps gently reminding me to walk in His mercy, because that is the only way I will have mercy to pour out. It's only two weeks until Christmas! And even though the days are packed (with good things!), it isn't an excuse to miss out. I don't want to miss the chance to be a light. Or to see the lighting up in my own Bushels' eyes when they realize the deeper meaning of Christ coming to earth.

And so each day, I am trying to take what time we can, and slow it down. Take more time on the couch to sit together. Reminding each other to look for moments. Taking more time to be silly and laugh even, so that the boys know that even though Mommy is busy, she is never too busy to be present with them.

I love Christmas. It is such a gift. And really, to truly enjoy a gift, don't we often have to slow down and savor it??? That is exactly where I want to be found right now.