The Big Smiles

Today I ate a long, leisurely lunch. Yes, I feel this is blog-worthy. I have no photo evidence of this lunch, or of my lovely, adult-luncheoning friend, because I ditched my cell-phone again about two years ago. I rarely take “the real camera” out unless I’m expecting some big-photo moments. When big-photo moments actually happen, I rarely think to snap a picture. It’s a conundrum I’m hoping to solve rather quickly, as I fear my head is running out of hard drive space–or however that works with brains. But my camera is rarely present for the big smiles, anyway. The big smiles come like an unexpected rain. And unexpected rains cause the big smiles, too.

Sometimes we get lucky and catch them.
Sometimes we get lucky and catch them.

When the sixteen chicks that I’ve raised for eight weeks indoors have to spend their first rainy night outside, I don’t think to grab an umbrella…I just gasp and run. When the downpour turns torrential as I’m coaxing chicks from under the stairs and into their shed-turned-chicken-coop, I smile. When I lean out of the coop, head directly in the runoff, to scoop frightened chicks and toss them into the hay, that’s when the big smile comes. And when I return to my front door, dripping from cold rain, my children’s wide eyes turn to big smiles, too.

When my nine-year-old princess-turned-farm-girl runs toward me with a frog in her outstretched hands, my big smile mimics hers. When she says, “Mom, now I’m awesome like my twin!” and I grab her face and smoosh her nose with mine and scold, “You’ve never been anything but awesome!” we’re both smiling ear-to-ear.

When I cuddle and rock my nine-year-old sunshine right out of a sullen mood, and she looks up at me and squeezes my neck with a “Mom, I really want to stay little!” Well, tears hide behind the big smile with that one.

When my seven-year-old daughter peddles her first two-wheel bike with the excitement of an Olympic event, my heart might burst from all the smiling.

When my seven-year-old son conquers math and ninja kicks his way through Bible drills, there are big smiles and high-fives for all.

When my daughters set up chairs outside and invite us to their moonlit performance…

When my sons sit side-by-side being brothers when no one is watching…

When I wake up in the morning and see new little sprouts in the garden…

When I pull up in the driveway after my long, leisurely lunch, and my five year old gets his first glimpse of me as he looks up from playing with caterpillars on the porch, his big smile answers all of the questions of my life in one sweeping, joy-filled blow. And there aren’t any cameras around to catch it…but somehow I don’t think I’ll forget.



Oh, Yeah, We Moved to Missouri

Sometime in late August I stood on the bank of a pond, and I held a fishing pole. Beside me stood my least outdoorsy daughter. I’d just hooked and lost a bluegill, and I wasn’t messing around. It was hot out, and I wanted to go inside with more than one scrawny fish on the line.

“Mom!” she yelled, and I shushed her.

“What is it?” I whispered back.

“Look at my face!” she cried. There was panic behind her eyes, and she was sure that I knew the reason just by glancing at her face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked with a furrowed brow. “I don’t see anything!”

She wiped her face with the back of her hand, and then she looked up at me again. “What,” she slowed, “is wrong with my face?”

“Oh honey,” I laughed. “That’s called sweat.”

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Yes, this Texan transplant to the mountains is now raising kids in Missouri. Clearly God has a sense of humor.

We Partied Like Rock Stars

I’m behind on my picture posting (so what else is new), but of course I have to post our spring break/biblical new year celebration! My sister-in-law had planned a trip our way with her two kids, so I said, “Hey, let’s go stay at a hotel for a night!” I pretended it was for the kids, but no one loves hotels more than I do.

Last year, all the big girls wanted for their birthday was a hotel stay; but if you’ve been reading for awhile, you know that we had a pretty big hiccup in our lives around that time. So this year, we made it happen early! And we did it up big! First stop, our favorite Chinese restaurant.


And then, after a junk food run, we partied like rock stars in the hotel room! We watched movies, popped microwave popcorn (gasp), found random music channels on the t.v. and danced till we we couldn’t dance anymore (I told them not to put us on the second floor). And yes, we kinda trashed the room–enough to make the maids gasp when opening the door while sis-in-law was in the next room and the rest of us were in the lobby eating breakfast. But don’t worry, I’ve been a maid! I stripped the beds and straightened the room before we left like I always do. Rock star mom by night; regular, boring mom by day.











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Sabbath for Americans

For years now, about seven, I’ve been asking the Lord for rest. He has increased my dreams, yet limited my time. How, God?! I didn’t know how was I supposed to set my feet to accomplishing the things He’d asked me to do. I didn’t know how was I supposed to get a shower. But if He showed me the way to walk, I would walk that way; that was the vow I made.

Jeremiah 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. –KJV

I have long since struggled, still do to some extent, to find my place in the “Old Testament,” the Tenach. Jesus saves, no amount of law abiding can do that. Yet, I read that there is righteousness and protection in obedience to the Law. God’s heart is represented in the details of the Torah. David loved God and was blown away by His Law! Like the bounds of marriage that cradle and protect the home, David felt at home–gloriously cradled–within God’s Law. He loved it, even though he was required to continually offer sacrifice to atone for his inevitable lack of righteousness.

A once-for-all, atoning sacrifice has already been made for me. But does that mean that I don’t ask God for the old paths? Does that mean that, unlike King David, I don’t need to seek my God’s heart for the treasures that lie in His Law? That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus had to say on that subject.

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. — NIV

When I was nineteen I lived with and trained under a Jewish midwife, and I was quickly made part of the family. Not once in all the months I was there did I ever notice that bacon was missing. The love in that household flowed like wine–and so did the wine, come to think of it. I looked forward to her Friday night Erev (Sabbath ceremony); and even though she practiced quietly, alone in the kitchen, that candle–her prayer–was my favorite part of every week. The subtle ways in which she taught me were powerful. She reclined on the couch and joined us in our silliness, and something was different. I now understand; it was the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  –NIV

To make a long story a little bit shorter, I’ve decided that the thing missing from my life, the reason for my exhaustion and unrest, was that I’d somehow misplaced the most detailed of the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” –NIV

I’ve felt God wooing me toward the Feasts and the Sabbath for quite some time, but apparently my American mind rebels against fun and rest. And I joke, because we free in Christ are the best at these things, right? Funnily, I’ve never experienced the kind of rest that is now present in my life, and I’ve never had so much time to do everything He’s asked me to do. 

I’ve titled this post Sabbath for Americans, because this is simply the rough and inarticulate way in which we (the six of us, Valentes) choose to honor the seventh day. There are so many fun and mysterious jewels involved in the traditional–old paths–practicing, but we’ve scratched the surface and adopted a few things as our own.

Two years ago, maybe closer to three, I decided that I wanted to observe the Sabbath. The only problem was that I almost completely forgot Preparation Day! So, by lunch-time, I was attempting to rest in what was basically a FEMA intervention waiting to happen. Not restful. What’s so great about the Sabbath, anyway?!

Ah, so to tell you about our Sabbath, I’m really going to tell you about our Preparation Day. I’ve just lived through one (a few hours ago) so it’s fresh in my mind. Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross on a special preparation day. I didn’t know that, but now my kids do. We were listening to an audio Bible a few nights ago, and when we got to John 19:31 they all exclaimed, “Preparation Day! They’d better hurry!”

I’m kinda in love with my kids.

Preparation Day starts on Friday morning, after I’ve had my coffee. Truthfully, I start to think about Preparation Day on Wednesday. That’s when I take a look at my laundry basket (which is usually not very full because I do one load–not counting pee, poop, or vomit induced extra loads–every day). Should I wash the blankets with the sheets this week? Whose pillows need to be bleached and fluffed? Does the slip cover on the couch need to be washed? And, umm…that last one is always a yes. I think about food, and I check my pantry. When Thursday comes, I step up the cleaning a bit. I might even move the couch when I sweep. Friday, though, that’s when the all out cleaning and cooking war commences. Friday is when we blare TobyMac so loudly that the neighbors think about moving. Friday is Preparation Day, and it looks a little something like this:

Today, I made eight loves of bread (four apple-cinnamon, four garlic). I made dinner and dessert for tonight and breakfast for tomorrow. We’ll have leftovers for lunch. I washed every blanket and pillow in the house, cleaned out the fridge, cleaned the microwave, and finally organized my bedroom while my children swept, mopped, washed dishes, and put away laundry. I have to honor Tiny Dancer, here, because she has truly learned how to be a help. I don’t feel like I did much at all today, actually. That’s definitely thanks to her.

The great thing about Preparation Day is that you don’t cook and clean until you’re done (done might never happen). No, you just go, go, go until sunset. We’ve adopted the three stars tradition, and Lil Prince is our star spotter. He loudly announces the evening’s first star, and when the third star appears, he orders the neighborhood to “Stop working!” Thankfully, my parents are my next door neighbors.

We’re usually seated at the table for awhile before he spots the first star. Sometimes, we even have time to wash a few of our dishes before the third star is excitedly spotted. The pots and pans have been cleaned in advance, our glasses stay on the table for the next day, and any remaining dirty dishes are stacked neatly beside the sink–because we’re done, put down your pencils and stop working d.o.n.e.

When we sit at our Sabbath table, time stands still. We’re exhausted from cleaning and overwhelmingly excited to enjoy our rest–to enjoy each other. To reflect. To pause. The kids are up past their normal bedtime on Friday night because we sit around the Sabbath table for at least an hour, laughing beneath the glow of a flickering candle. Heavy, earned, deep sighs are breathed as we soak in our love for each other and the Father’s love for us. I hear about what God has been teaching my children; I whisper what He’s been revealing to me. And as I tuck them into bed, I can hardly contain my joy at the last words they whisper before dreaming, “Happy Sabbath, Mama.” And tonight Bay Bit added, “God is Holy.”


As if Friday night is not more than enough, there is also all day Saturday. I won’t try to explain that to you, though; I think this picture speaks for itself.