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31 May 2017


Here's the truth-
Their work involves hooking up wires and a multimeter and calculations that I really don't understand.
But these two curious minds finish guitar class and skip soccer to sit with my favorite geek and a light bulb and I'm pretty impressed.


A secret can be a hard thing to keep.
I blew it with one daughter, in a "did I really just say that out loud?" moment.
In an instant, in a case of Very Bad Timing, another one saw incriminating email and the gig was up.
But despite my general inability to lie well, another, although justifiably extremely suspicious, really did not know until the very end. (Who could have guessed that the plane arriving in Harlingen originated in Omaha? And our friends from Omaha? Well, they actually flew out of Kansas City...?)

Do you remember your childhood best friends? That family who lived down the street? Those kids who crisscrossed your yard and were in and out of your house? The ones who manned the corner lemonade stands with you and swam at the neighborhood pool with you and survived the most awkward memories of your youth with you?

Those are the girls who came to visit mine today.   And all of our hearts swell in gratitude. Welcome back to the Holliday house, Lucy and Maddie!


An Saturday afternoon in south Texas.
One chore after another filled my day-
picking up and cleaning counters and mopping floors. Making lists and running errands and grocery shopping.
But stop.

Look at that wide open sky.
South Texas.


They walked down the aisle, clad in traditional cap and gown. We waved our hands in mad applause. Waved our hands? These proud students claim their status as the first Mexican secundaria equivalency graduates of Instituto Isaias 55, the first deaf school in Reynosa. My teammates tell me stories about when one of these boys started school, kicking and screaming, really- kicking staff in the shins. But over time, they have learned to communicate using Mexican sign language, and they have learned the skills necessary to operate in the real world, and they have learned about Jesus. So this day, we celebrate the students. We celebrate their families and the school staff that labored alongside of them, and we dream of even bigger victories in the years to come.

(To see a news story about the graduation on the local news, here's a link... Vallevision- I55)


Sunrise certainly ranks as my primary motivation for getting out of the house early. I can wake up before dawn, no problem. I'm a go to my desk, read, pray, drink coffee alone, quiet before anyone else is awake, kind of girl. Some days, I see the shadowy pastels of morning and know that I missed it, and I really can barely think about lacing my shoes. Seeing the orange on the horizon, that's the money.

26 May 2017


God, all nature sings thy glory,
and thy works proclaim thy might;
ordered vastness in the heavens,
ordered course of day and night;
beauty in the changing seasons,
beauty in the storming sea;
all the changing moods of nature
praise the changeless Trinity,

Clearer still we see thy hand
in man whom thou hast made for thee;
ruler of creation's glory,
image of thy majesty.
Music, art, the fruitful garden,
all the labor of his days,
are the calling of his Maker
to the harvest feast of praise.

But our sins have spoiled thine image,
nature, conscience only serve
as unceasing, grim reminders
of the wrath which we deserve.
Yet thy grace and saving mercy
in thy Word of truth revealed
claim the praise of all who know thee,
in the blood of Jesus sealed.

God of glory, power, mercy,
all creation praises thee;
we, thy creatures, would adore thee
now and through eternity.
Saved to magnify thy goodness,
grant us strength to do thy will;
with our acts as with our voices 

thy commandments to fulfill.

- "God, All Nature Sings Thy Glory," David Clowny (1960) (to the tune to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy")

24 May 2017


True friends are hard to find. 
They stick closer than family, and often know you better. They pray bigger things for you than you pray for yourself. They believe with you when your faith is weak. They make space for you when life falls apart, and they rejoice with you when all is well. Most importantly, true friends remind you in every encounter who and what is most important.
We sit across from the table from one another at the no frills Mexican restaurant on the edge of my 'hood. We no longer need to look at the menu- the order is always the same, always tacos, juevos and tocino, tostado for me, and  juevos, tocino, papas y queso, tostado for her. We cover the eggs with warm salsa, spooned from a plastic cup. We start with coffee and then accept refills about 4 times, the last one reluctantly, before we recognize that one more cup may lead to all-day tremors. We have a list, because time passes way too quickly and we are easily distracted and there are things that have to be spoken out-loud, too complicated for text and the quick crossings of life during our normal week.

About an hour into the early morning rendezvous, she receives a text from home.
Where are you?
She sends a picture of me holding coffee.
A smiley emoji comes as a reply, and a moment later,
Good for you.
And then the dot-dot-dot of activity on the other side of screen. At the ding of a new text, my friend shows me her screen and Proverbs 27:17-
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

And with that, both of us take a deep breath of profound thankfulness. 

23 May 2017


A tornado struck Sunday evening, and although that event happened 150 miles to the west of us, we felt the effects even the next day. The twister twisted the high tension power line towers in Nuevo Laredo almost like a child's Erector set, and as such, electricity flickered in and out all day along the Mexican side of the border. I showed up to the neighborhood elementary school to find the gates locked up and kids playing in the streets. In these still muggy days, the hardest part of no power is definitely no air conditioning, no fans. Somehow, the lights came back on in time for the evening activities, and the kids were ready to go. 'Tis definitely the season para paraguas at the border.

22 May 2017


Dear A Dog's Purpose-

I wept.
Flat out, ugly cry, gasping out loud for air, sobbed.

I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I was ready for a dog movie. Maybe it was the combination of the kids growing up and the dog growing old and my own kids growing up and my own dog getting old. Maybe it was the very familiar voice of the dog, one with words similar to those we imagine our own pup speaking. No matter, the cinema experience this afternoon was something akin to ripping out my heart and stomping on it, four times.

Then we came home and told our old man Dillon what a good dog he is. Yes, he has fulfilled his purpose.

No more dog movies for a while, okay?


Really, who wouldn't want their ball to come back through the gator's mouth? How is it that playing under the lights and aquatic life is somehow that much more cool than the ordinary bowling alley? And bowling balls with fish and hunting dogs and alligator eye balls? It somehow makes up for a very sub-par game, salvaged only by a semi-miraculous tenth frame that pushed my score across the 100 point threshold. Playing with this alley-full is nothing but laughs.


And then there were none.
We graduated our last high school students on Friday evening. Five graduation in five years.

It has been a rich journey, traveling this road of homeschooling. Our primary inspiriation for the very intentional decision to keep our kids home for school came from Scripture, from passages such as
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-8

We began to homeschool not as a statement against anything, only as a means to teach our kids about the Lord our God throughout our day, in our coming in and going out. In addition, we were an active-duty military family in those days, and we knew that we would face frequent moves. Homeschooling allowed us to keep that one thing constant even in the midst of change.

Over the years, we found deep community and sweet fellowship among fellow homeschoolers. Our kids have never lacked for friendships, for opportunities to socialize. They have participated in extracurricular activities and athletics. They have been challenged by other teachers and students in learning opportunities outside the walls of our home. They have read 30-50 books a year as part of their history and literature curriculum. They went searching for rocks and dissected crawdads and fish and frogs and mixed up chemicals in science labs. They are fairly well-rounded students, college-ready by the highest state standard.

But perhaps even more importantly, through the flexibility of homeschooling, we were allowed opportunity for service, and to spend parts of our days looking outside our family. For years, we delivered meals to homebound seniors and invalids. We could be the last minute drop-in care for friends needing a place to send their kids. We could serve the church and her body, together. We met many characters and we have written many stories, together.

After nearly twenty years of raising up these young people, I well know that there is no perfect educational scenario. There were many times when I thought, maybe there's another, a better, option. Yes- we missed some things- no choir or band where we live, no opportunity for varsity sport competition. Quite likely, my kids would have had higher test scores with a better and more diligent math teacher. Homeschooling is not an 8-4 job. Perhaps one of the hardest part of homeschooling is that to make an opportunity, you sometimes have to make it yourself. We found others who wanted a prom, who would participate in student council, who joined us for commencement.

And yet, I feel certain that the words and the love of the Lord are written on my kids' hearts, and for that, I have no greater joy. I know, that is not my work but all the generous grace of our God. I am grateful for these 20 years, and eager to see what the next chapter holds for all of us.

20 May 2017


(ummm... confession: I had the chicken tortilla soup...)


A day full from sunrise to sunset and beyond. But to end the day with these three families together was indeed a picture of Psalm 133-
 How wonderful, how beautiful,
    when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
    flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
    flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
    flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
    ordains eternal life.

Praying for you through your adventures and travel home safe, dear Bickels! 

19 May 2017


When you take your charges to the playground, you will see the lawnmower man come by in his very noisy cutting machine.
And when the lawnmower man comes by in his very noisey cutting machine, you will see a rabbit scurry through the tall grass for safety.
You will see the lawnmower man get off his machine and get out his tools and check the valves on the sprinklers.
And when he checks the valves on the sprinklers, you will hear the spurt and spizz of the water coming through the sprayers.
You will see your charges yelp for joy.
And you will see them suddenly running and jumping through the morning mist.
Your charges will run and jump through the morning mist, and get wet and cut grass will cover their feet and splotches of mud will paint their legs.
And you will wonder if an apartment complex has a hose.
You will find that an apartment complex does NOT have a hose so you will try to herd your charges to the bathtub to rinse off without covering the floor with grass.
And you will find that your charges get completely undressed and decide to take a full-fledged bath.
You will run the bath and add a cap full of bubbles just because.
And you will laugh as they pour pitchers of water over one another.
You will dry them off and re-clothe them and color with them and feed them and watch a movie with them.
And then your charges will be ready to go to the playground...


Something about an almost dead battery and a LED light and a couple of wires and making the connections so that the bulb suddenly glows...
yeah, that's it,
making the connection so that the bulb suddenly glows.


A just right day for Mom's.

16 May 2017


Out the door and turn left,
past the ballcaps,
past the jewelry, silver sunbeam shiny,
past the offers for medicines,
past the offers for dental work,
past the offers for pedicures,
past the cheese and avocados,
past the bright paper flowers,
around slow sidewalk strollers carrying micheladas so early in the day,
around the little girls with chicles,
around the ladies with nopales,
around the blind woman leaning against the wall with her cup extended,
around the shoeshine man.
One more left turn to Texitas,
one order of tacos,
shells crisp from hot grease,
carne molida seasoned just so,
cilantro and lettuce and onions and white crumbly cheese,
tomato sliced thin and avocado creamy on top,
spicy green sauce tucked in between,
para llevar, por favor.

15 May 2017


Here might be a primary problem with homeschooling-
if you want something to happen, you might just have to make it happen yourself.


13 May 2017


Half-price frappucinos
and a meet-up at Target
and friends at the door
and tables pushed together
and girls who make me laugh
and boys who make me smile.


Mil gracias, Grace,
for being our lifesaver when Spanish 1312 was cancelled the very day classes were to begin;
for teaching with skill and contagious enthusiam;
for providing my Wednesday morning coffee;
for filling part of the hole in my Poppy heart;
for giving me a reason to play with Thomas and to read about George;
for the bonus of free sign language tutoring;
for a delicious bonus final cooking class.
¡Eres bien preciosa a nosotras!

12 May 2017


A most faithful bunch, they spent their Tuesday evenings serving together, week after week, since way back in September.

One keeps us on time, and under a serious countenance, cares deeply for the people she serves, sitting alongside and softly making corrections. Another comes in, always with multiple kids in tow, rushing in from after-school tutoring or homework and snacks. She's taught while pregnant, and with a newborn in a sling, and with a toddler fussing for her and with her sweet girl dancing in and out of classroom door.

One keeps the kids, and pushes them on the swing and makes sure they don't jump off the slide, and paints the girls' nails and keeps order. Another makes sure that the students know the history lesson, speaks with perfect diction, and has that dry sense of humor keeps us shaking our heads.

One arrives straight from work, our bouncer, standing guard at the door, and pouring lemonade for all the kids he has given nicknames. Another is my constant ear and encourager, my teaching partner, always ready to fill a vacancy, always my go-to grammar expert.

One kept teaching while preparing for a wedding and virtually commuting back and forth across 330 miles. Another plays games with the kids and answers the constant peppering of "Miss Sarah, yes or no?" One started at the door and then agreed to teach to fill a hole, even in the middle of toothaches.

I can't forget my favorite sub, the only one who I really trust with my lesson plans when I can't be there to teach. There's my snack lady who fills our pantry and keeps us supplied with juice and Cuties. There's the one I need to sit at the door and wait for new students. There are my pastors, who prepare devotions and pray without ceasing (and set out the tables and chairs which I am quite sure is not in the job description) and give this grateful girl a place to serve. They are my ESL staff and I couldn't be more grateful for them. Well done, friends.

10 May 2017


Sometimes art class gets a little out of hand...

(And then I notice, I think I am mellowing. Slowly. Because really, I hate mixing all the colors into green-gray-purple ooze. And really, why would you want paint all over your hands? But really, is this the big thing today? Soap and paper towels are cheap, but smiles are priceless.)

Grace. More grace.


Many many years ago my family started the practice of sitting towards the front of the church. Like most weekly church-goers, we have a row of chairs that we naturally gravitate towards, a home base of sorts. But on this Sunday, an unknowing visitor got to those seats ahead of us. We moved up one more row, now only one family in front of us.

For me, the only downside to sitting up front is that you don't see who is sitting behind you. If I don't get to the back quickly enough after the service, I may never even know some folks were worshipping with me. But on this Sunday, we also had that particular blessing of sharing communion. The current practice of our church is that the entire congregation files forward to the front, one by one, one row after another. Our pastors and elders serve each participant a tiny square of flaky flat bread and a tiny cup of wine. We then return down the side aisles to our chairs and wait to eat and drink together.

And so, sitting there and waiting, I saw nearly everyone in the congregation pass by. My youngest buddies waved. A friend I had not seen for several weeks grabbed my hand. My teammate squeezed my shoulder. I watched young moms and dads wrangle kids up the aisle. I saw a lady whisper to a teen and they exchanged grins. I noticed the ladies in Mexican dresses and the guys in boots and jeans and the little girls in swirly skirts and the little boys whose shirts are never ever tucked quite all the way in. Then I watched our elders carefully slip between music stands and guitar necks and bow strokes to serve our musicians, knowing who prefers the wine and who wants the juice without even asking.

The Lord's Supper is that tangible reminder of the grace Jesus purchased for us on the cross, giving his body and his blood for our salvation. But it is also a reminder of the grace we need and the forgiveness we require every day, living out life on this side of heaven. How thankful I am for the work of Chirst, for the body, for the fellowship of believers, for the opportunity to know and remember again how very sweet the gospel of Christ is.

(and of course, the photo has nothing to do with any of that. Later in the afternoon, we gathered together for Bible study and that beautiful bird got a pass out of his cage to visit with us...)

07 May 2017


My first taste of shaved ice came in Oahu. Don't call it a snow cone. The premium shaved ice, the five cone rating by Holliday standards, can be found at Matsumato's on Oahu's North Shore. It's not like any other. In fact, it may ruin you for ordinary snow cones for the rest of your life. They shave blocks of blue ice into powdery snow. The syrup flavors in technicolor. A little scoop of rich vanilla ice cream at the bottom of the cup serves to both keep the syrup from dripping out the bottom of the cone and to create a final taste sensation. When we were stationed at Pearl Harbor for a blur of 11 months, I probably visited Matsumoto's 12 times.  If you go to Oahu, you must go to Haleiwa. Really, you must.

And now, in some crazy form of six degrees of separation, my twins work for Kona Ice. They never lived in Hawaii, and only know Matsumoto's by one blessed visit. But thanks to their crazy mom, they know raspas, the Mexican version of shaved ice. One coincidence leads to another and then my twinsees are making shaved ice in a food truck. Their mom beams.

It was a Saturday funk, I'll say, a low of lows. But the sun was bright, and the Texas tradition of Market Days drew me out. That turned out to be good medicine. My Sarah's sweet boss comp'd me a cup and I flavored it Mango Cherry. I spotted a dear friend across the way and brought one to her. Who doesn't love a shaved ice on a warm day? Find one, friend. It will do you good.


Have you heard about the Nike sponsored effort to run a sub-2 hour marathon?
I'm a little bit obsessed in reading about it.

(Reading about it- yes. Running a race- no. I am not at all interested in running a marathon. Let's be honest- on this day I thought I'd take 2 mile jog through the 'hood. I quit at 1.35 miles. The guys training for the marathon, they would have been nearing mile 5 in about the same amount of time... Yes. I recognize the irony.)

But back to those guys- this goal is not just about  running. It's not a mid-morning trot around the 'hood. Arguably, this race to a sub-2 marathon may be more about science and equipment and nutrition and location and weather, and perhaps even money. Eliud Kichoge of Kenya finished the race on Saturday with a time of 2:00:25. One second faster per mile and he would have finished those 26.2 miles in 2 hours. So close. After it was all over, he said his effort was one hundred percent of what he had to give. In a video made for Nike before the race, Kipchoge said, "It's not about the legs. It's about the heart and the mind."

I'll get up tomorrow morning and remind myself of that.


In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.
― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves


To pay attention, this our endless and proper work.
- Mary Oliver, White Pine: Poems and Prose

03 May 2017


Good habits protect what’s most important. They keep us on the track of perseverance even when we don’t feel like persevering. They help us access the channels of God’s ongoing grace in the times we need it most (often when we don’t feel like it), and so preserve and keep our souls. Good spiritual habits keep us in God’s word, and in prayer, and among God’s people, even as we ride the emotional ups and downs of life.
- "God Will Hold You Through Your Habits," David Mathis, Desiring God Ministries

I am a creature of habit, and nothing says that more than Tuesdays. I wake up. I run. I go to my Bible reading plan. I read a chapter in a book. I go over my memory verses. (I drink a latte.) I shower. I set up tables at church. I pray with my friend. I prepare dinner. I go to church at 4:30. I make coffee. I pray. I teach. 
Almost every single week. Almost without fail.

Sure, some of that is just routine. But the most important elements of that daily regimen are ingrained deep in my soul. And honestly, those habits, the simple discipline of doing the same thing day after day, week after week, were great grace to me when we went through the rocky waves of the past winter, when moment to moment was to do the next thing. They remain so even now when I wake in a funk. The habits of the Word and of prayer and of gathering together, they persist as more than ordinary grace. 

Mathis writes, "Habits of grace for hearing God’s voice in his word, having his ear in prayer, and belonging to his body help us get our eyes off ourselves so that we might regularly taste “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). They help to make persevering in the faith not be about our technique and actions, but about knowing Jesus." No treasure could be greater.


Apparently completely oblivious to cultural norms, the kids began to arrive at 4, though we planned for the party to start at 6. The first group helped to raise the banners and move the tables. The girls made their own games with foam mats, little houses and then hopscotch. The Jenga blocks became construction materials, buildings exceeding the height of the little ones (until inevitably, the boys knocked them down- what do you expect?). We played Lotería with real prizes. We hopped and raced and scrambled. We ate hot dogs Mexican style with mustard and ketchup and mayonnaise and tomatoes and cheese and onions and jalapeños and washed it all down with cool jamaica. A whole bunch of kids schemed on how to get an extra treat bag- no, they are not for your toddler sister who barely has teeth and doesn't yet talk. No, they are not for your mom. No, they are not for your aunt. But, if you are our very adorable elderly next door neighbor and you want a treat bag, yes- there is definitely one more bag for you.
Día de los Niños- even for the young at heart.