Tuesday, December 21, 2010

our christmas letter

This is the first year since getting married that we haven't sent out a Christmas photo/card/letter. Mostly because we will be sending out an adoption announcement when our son comes home (which we hope will be SOON), and I am way too lazy to send out that many cards twice!

In lieu of an actual letter, here is the blog version. Enjoy!


Greetings friends! We hope this letter finds you happy, healthy, and enjoying the season with the ones you love.

2010 was a big year for our family - we tried new things, went new places, met new people, and had our hearts opened, broken, and mended over and over.

Nate started kindergarten this fall and is absolutely loving it! His reading and writing are improving every day and currently one of his favorite pastimes is writing notes to me and leaving them around the house. This year he played T-ball and swam on the summer league swim team. Nate enjoys doing mazes, building train tracks, and playing with his best friend - his brother Dexter.

Speaking of Dexter, he is still cracking us up with crazy antics every day! His preschool teachers have a story for me every time I pick him up. He is still obsessed with Thomas the Train, but also loves puzzles, books, and sidewalk chalk. He gives the best hugs in town and enjoys snuggling with Mommy and wrestling with Daddy.

Jon continues to find his job satisfying and challenging. He regularly gets recognized at work for his great technical ability and strong leadership. I'd brag more but I don't want to embarrass him! He has been serving as an Elder at our church for the past year and a half, as well as leading a search committee to hire our new Director of Worship, Music & the Arts. He also still plays drums a few Sundays a month.

I have been busy as usual, especially since joining our church staff as the Interim Worship & Arts Coordinator last Winter. I planned worship services, coordinated our art gallery, and put together several special events throughout the year. I enjoyed this work, but am happily finished now that we have hired a new director. I still teach parent/child preschool classes once a week and participate in weekly women's Bible study, as well as singing in church regularly.

In October we traveled to Ethiopia as part of our adoption process. It was truly a life-changing experience and we plan to go back as often as possible. Our son, Eba Ezekiel ("Zeke") Ballast, was officially adopted into our family on November 15, 2010! We are now waiting for the US Embassy in Ethiopia to finish processing his visa and passport so we can bring him home, hopefully in early 2011.

God has been good to us and we are so thankful for his blessings, including many of you - our sweet friends and family. (And a shout out to any internet strangers out there too, thanks for reading!)

May the miracle of Christ's incarnation, the glory of his resurrection, and the hope of his coming kingdom fill your hearts with joy and peace this Christmas!

The Ballast Family

Monday, December 13, 2010

room to breathe

You gave me room to breathe. --Psalm 31:8b, The Message

I have new space in my life and God is cramming blessings into every square inch of it. Mostly tiny happy things, small but much-needed reminders of my belovedness.

We took the boys to a local paved trail last weekend to give Nate some practice on his bike, sans-training-wheels. It was gray and cold and perfect: a wide-open path on a quiet Northwest morning. Unbeknownst to us there was a crowd of people nearby getting ready to participate in a 10K race along the same route. Just as we finished our ride and turned off the path to go back to our car, hundreds and hundreds of people streamed by us onto the trail we had just vacated. The first raindrops of a massive downpour began to fall; we bundled into the car and headed home.

Last night we left the kids at home with a babysitter and headed out for dinner and a concert. Easy drive, good parking spot, and no wait at our favorite Puerto Rican restaurant: fried plantains and pulled pork to die for. After dinner we walked a few blocks to the concert venue, and ran into the band we were going to see on the street outside (indie-folk duo The Civil Wars). Being a huge nerdy super-fan, of course I had to say hi and gush about how much I love them and how excited I was for the show! Inside we found seats in the front row still available, but within 5 minutes the place was packed. And the show... Ohhh, I am (almost) at a loss for words. Music makes me cry a lot, but it is usually because of what the song means to me. For only the second time in my life, music made me cry by the sheer beauty of it. A wonderful night it was.

The Civil Wars: Joy Williams and John Paul White

My new shirt

This morning I dropped both boys off at school and went home. Sat down. Drank hot chocolate. Read. Listened to my haunted iPod on shuffle (it plays the perfect songs at the perfect times to the point of creepiness). Had room to breathe.

[Also this morning? Drove Dexter to school twice - on our first try I went to get him out and realized he didn't have socks or shoes on. Oh, also dropped a mostly full glass jar of strawberry jam on the kitchen floor and it shattered. It happens.]

After school Nate grabbed his pad of paper and pencil (he's been on a writing kick lately, writing me little notes all day long).

In case you aren't fluent in Kindergarten spelling, it says "You are beautiful."

Thank you. Don't we all need reminding?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Nothing in my life has caused me to doubt quite like working for a church.

Though doubt is far from being a popular topic in Christian circles, I have heard a few brave souls bring it up. Mostly I’ve heard people say that it is OK to doubt – that doubt is actually faith’s partner, not its opposite. I’ve heard Christians I deeply respect share their own doubts, or tell stories about valleys in their spiritual lives where they were not sure what they believed. I listened and filed the information away, but to be honest I just couldn’t relate.

Last week I came to the end of my time as the Interim Worship & Arts Coordinator at our church. It’s rather complicated to explain exactly what that job entailed and how I came to be doing it, but the bottom line is that I have been planning our worship services for the past year and a half. Now that I’m done, I can look back and say that it has been one of the most fruitful and growth-filled times of my life – I have learned a ton, done things I never thought I could do, and experienced the Holy Spirit moving in amazing ways.


Alongside the growth came wave upon wave of fierce and soul-jarring doubt. Questions whose answers I’ve known for years were suddenly cloudy and unsettling to me. And these weren’t complex, 3rd year seminary questions either – they were more like 3rd grade Sunday school basics: Who is God? What is he like? What does he want? What part do I play? And the one that rang in my head over and over on most Sunday mornings: Does any of this matter?

I sometimes squirmed through services, shamed by my distracted thoughts, weighed down by self-accusation: I’m the one who put this service together and yet I feel like I don’t even know why we’re all here. I’m the last person who should be feeling like this and struggling with these questions… I am failing.

I wonder if being a worship planner (or leader or pastor or preacher) might mean learning to walk the razor’s edge of humility and boldness. Humility, because we must know our ourselves to be wholly incapable of doing anything without God – especially guiding his people in worship. And yet boldness, because we must fully live into the calling of God and actively follow him in order to lead others. This is not an easy line to walk; I sliced my tender feet trying.

Ultimately I struggled to reconcile the scandalous hugeness of my task with the laughable smallness of my person. If God would let someone like me do something as important and, quite frankly, as dangerous as leading his people in worship… what kind of a God could he really be? I know, I know – bring what you have, broken and inadequate as it may be, and God will do the rest: a boy brought a few loaves and fish and Jesus fed 5000, blah blah blah. I know it… but it is possible to know something without believing it.

And now? Now I am done. I can get down from the edge and bandage my feet, stretch out my hands and see that I have grown and changed, I have been blessed and built up. I have been shaken, and the pieces are still settling. But I remember the words I have heard about doubt – I hear them with fresh ears. Doubt is necessary for true faith. Doubt does not separate us from God. Doubt need not be a source of shame or guilt. I believe these things with a deeper conviction now than I ever have before. The questions are still there, but I am not afraid of them. Who is God? He is the one who says it is OK to ask.

Monday, November 29, 2010

a good word

Yesterday was the first day of a new year according to the Church calendar, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent. Although there was no late night champagne or fireworks, it did feel very much like the beginning of a new year for me. The following words are from a song called "Benediction" by Maeve, and I think they work well as a new year's blessing:

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May he shine a light upon your face
May you feel the heat of his glory in your bones
May you know his kindness and his grace

May his love define your ways of living
May you see his face among your friends
May you live your story empowered by his love
May you be comfortable walking in your skin

May you find your worth from your Maker
and live in freedom all your days
May you grow in the sense of who you really are
May his light show you the way

May you know that you have the power
to add beauty and grace into this world
May you discover all your gifts and give them generously
May you listen for God's every word.

I pray these words for you today, and ask that you would do the same for me. Happy New Year!

Friday, November 26, 2010

they said it: thanksgiving

Dexter: It's Thanksgiving! We should say thank you.

Jon: That's right Dexter -- who do we say thank you to?

Dexter: I don't know... Grandma Boonstra or somebody.


Jon told the boys that if they stood still, smiled, and looked at the camera for a good picture then they could throw a snowball at him. It worked!

In fact, it worked so well that I tried to snap a bunch of pictures while I had them. There were, however, diminishing returns over time.

Can we throw a snowball now please?!

[click to enlarge the picture and check out Dexter's face]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010


for old magazines and glue sticks that keep hands and minds busy

for serious faces

for sharing chairs

for my budding photographer

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

psalm 131

My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

anticipating amazing

We leave for Ethiopia in less than 48 hours. Everyone we know who has been anywhere in Africa tells us that going there was life-changing for them. It is a really strange to anticipate a life-changing event. I know I will be different when I come home, but I don't know exactly how I will be different. What parts of who I am will change? How will my post-Africa self view my current pre-Africa self? Will I ever learn to ask questions that aren't intrinsically egocentric? All of this remains to be seen.

I'm writing about these questions here because I'm not sure what will happen with this blog in the future. No matter what happens in Ethiopia, I am pretty sure I will still love to write when I come back. Still, there's a good chance this will be my last post here for at least a few weeks, so I didn't want to leave ya'll wondering. If you want to follow along on our trip and the ensuing adoption adventures, there's a link to that blog on the side bar.

In the meantime, Xavier Ibarket. (God bless you in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

love wins

Life is so fragile. We make all these plans. We have all these expectations and goals and dreams. We say things like, "Maybe in 10 years I'll do [this or that]."

We hope for success. We grieve failure. We worry. We think we have it all when our interest rate is good, our cars are paid off, and our portfolio is gaining. We breathe a sigh of relief when our kids get good grades, our family holiday gatherings are drama-free, and our annual performance review comes in above-average.

All of this is as sure as our next breath. Can you guarantee that the next time your medulla oblongata tells your lungs to expand they'll do what they're told? And if they do, can you guarantee that fresh, life-giving air will fill them? No. None of us can.

If all we have to hope for is what stares us in the face every day -- our home, our job, our spouse, our friends, our family, our sense of self-worth -- we are [and I really want to cuss here but I won't]... screwed. If this life is all there is, our story is always a tragedy. Death wins.

Thank God our hope is not here. Thank God our hope is not in our next breath. Thank God death does not win. Out of love for us and a desire to bring glory to his Father, Jesus Christ conquered death once and for all, transforming our lives from a series of meaningless inhales and exhales into an eternal gift. Our hope rests in that transformation, in that grace, in that free offer of true, redeemed, everlasting life in the kingdom of God. There is absolutely nothing -- no accomplishment, no failure, no decision, no tragedy, nothing -- that can change this gift of God on which our hope securely stands. Love wins.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

too late, too soon.

Carly Henley, 1990-2010

I was going to finish my half-written post about how completely insane and overwhelming things are right now as we get ready to go to Ethiopia in 2 weeks. I was going to try a new timed poetry writing experiment today on the blog. I was going to gather some sweet quotes from my youngest and snap a cute picture to go alongside.

I can't do those things... I can't do much today. A mother, father, and step-father lost their daughter yesterday. Four young people lost their sister. Many, many others lost a cherished friend when 20 year old Carly Henley, a UW junior, an aspiring singer, an absolutely beautiful girl inside and out, took her own life yesterday.

If I could summarize the collective sentiment I have heard today it would be, "We had no idea."

My friend Chelsea is on my short list of awesome people I am privileged to know. She lives in another state and isn't connected to this story at all, but just so happened to have posted about teen suicide on her blog yesterday. She ends her post with these words, words we all need, words I will join her in saying:

you are loved. you, who are reading this post. you are loved and you do not walk through this world alone. whether you believe me or not the God of the universe, the one who thought up the ocean and whispered the stars into being loves you. and His love is steady- lean into it. His love saved me when no one else and nothing else could. he takes you, gay or straight, black or white, fat or thin. he accepts you in all your varying states of brokenness. he holds you. he loves you. but just in case that feels a little too far away, i want you to know something else: i love you too. my heart may not be as big as His, but it is big enough for you. if you are reading this and you need a soft place to land here it is. if you need someone to talk to, here i am. you are valued and worthy and loved. that's all. pretty simple.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

sabbath-keeping: a visual liturgy

These are photos from a vacation we took last month. It was a beautiful time of resting, playing, reading, talking, and being together: in other words, sabbath. [Disclaimer: One of our children is slightly more, shall we say, expressive than the other. We love them both, but end up taking more pictures of the younger.]

Call to Worship

The Greeting

Prayer of Invocation

Song of Praise


Assurance of Forgiveness

Passing of the Peace




Silent Prayer

The Lord's Supper

The Benediction

The Sending

Friday, September 17, 2010

they said it

[after getting PJs on tonight]

Dexter: Mommy, I love you. Aaaand... [leans over and gives me a kiss.]

Me: Ohhh sweetie, I love you too!

Dexter: Mommy, if we be together, we don't even need to have any snacks.

Knowing how much this kid loves snacks, this is probably the sweetest thing he could ever say to me!

5 reasons vacuuming is like therapy

1. It creates space to say what you're really thinking and feeling without worrying about who is listening.

2. It offers a time of respite from the noise and chaos of daily life.

3. When you get done you generally feel better about yourself.

4. You can't multi-task: you have to be fully present to the matter at hand.

5. It doesn't make your whole house clean, but it is a good place to start.

Monday, September 13, 2010

big days

We've had some big days around here.

1st Day of Kindergarten

a wee bit excited we were.

3rd birthday

OK this cake picture needs a disclaimer: normally I am the mom who bakes a cake from a mix, slaps some frosting on, writes 'happy birthday' across it and calls it good. When I deviate from this, it is usually disastrous. [Case in point: for Nate's 3rd birthday I tried to bake a 'healthy' apple cake. It weighed approximately 30 pounds and was so dense that parents had to use a fork and knife to cut it into bite-sized pieces for their toddlers. Mortifying.] But this Thomas cupcake train seemed idiot-proof enough for me, so I went for it. And mark the tape, folks - I managed to not screw it up!

1st day of preschool

On the way home I tried to ask Dexter about school.

Me: So how was school?
Dexter: Good.
Me: Did you meet some new friends?
Dexter: I don't want to talk about it.

Um... I'm sorry, I ordered the toddler but you seem to have brought me the teenager by mistake. What in the world will he be saying in the car on the way home from 8th grade?!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

they said it: football season

Last night we started what will probably become a tradition around here: Family Football Night. Here are some bits and pieces of the dialogues it produced...


Nate and Dexter, wanna watch football with me?

Nate: You said we couldn't watch anything else today.

Jon: Well... we can bend the rules for football. [Gets the kids settled in the armchair with him.] Ok Dexter, the man on the left is Kirk Herbstreit...


Boise State was playing Virginia Tech, but as Jon explained the game to the kids it was easier to just call them the blue team and the black team. Which was fine until a Tech blitz...

Jon: Look at all those black players!! Um... I mean... black-jerseyed gentlemen!


Dexter [after seeing the Tech mascot]: Hey! I just saw Red Robin!


Nate: Daddy, when they all get together and crouch down are they telling a secret of what they should do?


Jon: OK, the referee threw a flag because that was an illegal tackle. The guy was already out of bounds, so the tackle wasn't allowed --

Nate [interrupting, in a teenager tone of voice]: Daddy, I already know what illegal means.


Nate: Look Daddy, it's a helmet with a bunco on it!

Jon: Um... you mean a bronco?

Nate: Oh. Yeah, a bronco!


Dexter: Mommy, someday will you watch me in that game? Someone will tackle me I think. I will run to the finish line!

Friday, September 3, 2010

the flip side

How many books, news stories, TV specials, etc feature stories about one individual with vision/endurance/luck/a good idea who made a huge difference in the world? We love these stories right? I just read a great story like that (Three Cups of Tea - excellent, highly recommend it). Good stuff, inspiring, yes yes. It's true, of course - one person can change the world.

For some reason that possibly only intensive therapy will someday uncover, I have a nasty habit of taking something good and true and twisting it in my brain to make it oppressive and harmful. (On second thought, perhaps I can skip therapy as this sounds a lot like Genesis 3 and therefore is probably just a normal part of being human. Hooray, no co-pay! Then again, therapy might be just the ticket to navigating the tricky parts of being human... Hooray, insurance!) Anyway, here's how I've twisted this: if A) some people have managed, by doing just the right thing at the right time, to make incredibly significant and positive changes in horrible situations, then B) I, being an individual, should be able to do the right thing at the right time to make significant positive changes in the difficult situations within my sphere of influence.

The problem is that B simply does not follow A. Just because an individual can theoretically "make all the difference", that does not mean that if I see a problem that I necessarily am the one who must figure out the right thing to do and do it [See also: hero complex]. I've been stressing out about a bunch of different situations over which I have, at most, only a perception of control, and feeling a sense of obligation that it is up to me to fix things, and then a corresponding guilt that I can't seem to do this. But if B doesn't follow from A, then what am I freaking out about?

I find it fascinating that a good, true, and positive message can have a flip side that holds so much power over me. Did anyone ever say, "Haley you better fix this! True, you're only one individual and its a complicated situation involving many people, but remember: one person can make a difference!" Of course not. But I subconsciously believed it anyway, which makes me wonder: what other messages have powerful flip sides?

"You can be anything you want when you grow up."
"He got what he deserved."
"Everything happens for a reason."
"It will all work out in the end."

I'm not saying we shouldn't ever promote these ideas, or that the positive outcomes never outweigh the 'flip side' messages. I'm just noticing that how we spin and interpret these messages can sometimes hold more power over us than the messages themselves. Have you experienced this? What do you think about the messages above and how they could be (mis)interpreted?

Friday, August 27, 2010

almond joy & mounds


sometimes you feel like a

sometimes you

Sunday, August 15, 2010

they said it

Here's a fresh batch of keepers from my little dudes (and some fun unrelated pictures too).


This one goes out to our Canadian family...

Nate (all excited to fill up the baby pool): OK, I'll be the hoser!


The next few all relate to last week's Vacation Bible School at church. The theme of the week was outer space, as I'm sure you could have figured out from the following...

Nate (very serious): I want to go to space. At VBS they said we could go to space... but they said we have to have moon boots. Mom, do we have any moon boots?

[later that night, during prayers]

Nate: Dear Jesus, please let the store have moon boots.


We are headed off to visit Jon's family soon and Nate has literally been counting down the days. I was trying to demonstrate this to a friend, but apparently he had VBS on the brain.

Me: Where are we going in 7 days?
Nate: I don't know.
Me: C'mon Nate, you've been talking about this every day! Where are we going in 7 days?
Nate (again, very serious): Space?


The church was decorated with all kinds of space paraphernalia for the occasion, including a blow-up alien creature that caught Dexter's eye.

Jon: Whatcha doin Dexter?
Dexter: I'm just looking at this scary fellow.