27 December 2014

Of Marriage

Marriage is so weird.

It's pretty much the only time in one's life (barring unforeseen circumstances) that you look at another person and say,

"You know what? I like you. And even though I haven't known you for an extremely long time, I know I like you so much that I want to see your face pretty much every. single. day. for the rest of my life. I want to hear your voice every morning and every night - I don't think it will ever annoy me.

"I want us to make tiny people that look just like us and will drive us insane - I mean, literally, we'll question our sanity - but, for the most part, should be fun. And then we'll somehow raise these little people to be responsible adults. You and me. Who are barely responsible adults ourselves. Yeah, we're gonna do that.

"And because you'll be breathing the same air as me every day, you're going to see me be pretty ugly. It's okay, though. I mean, I like you. And I trust you. And I trust that you'll see that ugly and still somehow like me. Most days. And you'll see me go through some really hard things - because life, itself, is awfully ugly at times - and I trust that you'll hold my hand when I cry and somehow still see beauty on that scrunched-up, red, blotchy, tear-stained face. And more than that, you'll somehow help me to survive those days. And I think I can do the same for you.

"Don't get me wrong. There will be days we'll get pretty angry with one another. We're not going to agree. And we might get to the same page, or we might have to agree to disagree. We'll get so bitterly angry on some days that if you were anyone else, I'd probably stop responding to your facebook messages or I'd just decide we're better as arm's-length friends. But since it'll be you, I'll have to remind myself that I really do like you and that we're stuck with each other, so I'll try my best to see things from your point of view or at least to admit that, while you may not be right, you're not necessarily wrong, either. And that will have to be okay.

And then we'll do this. Every. Single. Day. Until we die.

I mean, really, how does that sound? Sound good? Want to do that?"

"I do."

Really. It's crazy.

If anyone else said that to us, we'd run away and maybe file a restraining order. But when we wrap it all up in a pretty white package tied to a shiny ring, we're okay with it.

It's clear to me this is a God-created institution. Because only a man in a different kind of institution would have decided we were capable of such a commitment. Yet our Creator created us to love - in the same crazy, unconditional way He loves us. And He welcomes us into this kind of relationship with one another to show us just how crazy and unconditional that kind of love is. How hard and, yet, how unbelievably worth it it is, too.

Which is why the only reason this insane institution works is when we choose to let Him show us how it's done.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

15 December 2014

Of Fading Beauty

I saw a portion of a fashion show on-line this morning - just a snippet, really. I was drawn in because something about the fashion/modeling world has always intrigued me, so I didn't necessarily go in with a critical eye, but with one that appreciates a certain artform, really, to the whole production of it all.

And in that clip of the final moment, all these beautiful young women, standing on the end of the catwalk, laughing, holding hands, smiling - as if this were the culmination of the best time of their lives - I was struck by the reality of it. Rather than envying their solid thighs and flat stomachs, I saw their future laid out before me.

They will spend the rest of their lives trying to hold on to this moment.

This moment where beauty equals flawless make-up and zero percent body fat. The world, too, will do nothing to make them believe they should not do all in their power to cling to their youth. Aside even from the barrage of "beauty" messages flung at all women daily, it's just the fact they have now displayed themselves for all to see - as icons of beauty and perfection. And when the worldly definition begins to fade in their own bodies, outsiders will hold up their photos - the fallen angels who maybe have bags under their eyes, imperfect skin or (gasp!) cellulite - and do all in their insecure power to be sure we all see how they have faltered. They've "let themselves go" - as if it's the personal responsibility of the individual to stop time or the aging process altogether.

And I pitied them. Because they most likely have little reason to believe this endless pursuit of youth and beauty which has been their livlihood, their world, is nothing but a passing shadow. That maybe there is a beauty in aging naturally. That maybe they have more to offer the world than a perfect body. And that, maybe, there are things in this world (and most certainly above this world) that are worthy of so much more attention, of grasping, than what they have been told.

And I pity us - and every girl at home - who sees this culminating moment and feels maybe they lack something and maybe they, too, given the right make-up or clothes, can achieve this form of perfection and this defining moment of joy that comes from reaching the summit (a peak which comes far too early in life, if youth is truly the goal).

There is just so much more to this life than the world will allow others to believe. Who will tell them?

05 December 2014

Of My First Daughter

Dear Micaiah,

I loved watching you dance in the leaves last weekend. Or, rather, twirl while waiting. Waiting for them to fall so you could dash to catch them. Jumping through your imaginary hopscotch board on the driveway. Waiting. Just so you could catch a bit of autumn in your hands. I delighted in watching you, my beautiful daughter - way bigger than I ever gave you permission to be.

It occurred to me - you are the first little girl with whom I've stood in the front yard, watching for leaves to tumble through the air.

Being the oldest, you have had to struggle with Mommy and Daddy as we bumble through this parenting thing. As we determine how we're going to discipline and when. We've expected so much (at times too much) from you because we still don't know what we can expect from a little girl your age. As the big sister, we expect you to set a good example and, let's be honest, at 6, you still need a good example. And we fail so often at that. And let's not even talk about the ways we've failed you at potty training.

But despite all the difficulties and weighty expectations, I want you to know, I treasure you. I fill with joy at all the moments we've shared, because being the oldest doesn't just mean you the first child in my womb or the first baby of my own flesh held in my arms.

Yours were the first tiny hands I held as those precious legs learned to stumble their way over this earth. Yours were the first bedtime stories I read (I was so eager, I started on your very first night at home - with, appropriately, "In a People House"). Your feet were the first I tried to squish into tiny shoes. You were the first strapped to my grocery cart - the first little hand waving, "Hi!" to every stranger I passed, melting them with your endless smile - you are still melting hearts at the grocery store.

You were the first I buckled into a stroller and the first for whom I stirred together baby cereal. Your head was the first little bald baby head I washed. You were my first pint-sized cookie-baking partner and the first arms I wrapped around a squirming baby brother. Your toes are the first little nails I painted and the first to dance on top of Daddy's.

Yours were the first little hands I taught to roll dice on a game board or how to hold a hand of Skip-bo cards (your great-grandma would be so proud). You were the first little dancer I've driven to class. You're the first one I ever packed up for a sleepover at Aunt Dayla's or whose hair I pulled up into a princess bun for the local parade (in fact, your hair is the first little girl hair I have ever successfully pulled into any hairstyle that was passable).

You are my first daughter and I have learned so much from you. Thank you for your patience, your smile and your sweet innocence. I love you so much.

Love always, Mommy

05 November 2014

Of My Dark Night of the Soul

Lately I have been enduring what a friend and associate minister at our church referred to as "the dark night of the soul" in a recent sermon. At the time I did not recognize how aptly the term referred to me. But in later weeks, as I sobbed into my pillow over the apparent meaningless of life, I came to recognize the truth. While simultaneously suffering new joint pain that seemed to come with a vengeance the minute I turned 30, I half-joked to my husband one morning, after a particularly straining night, having awoken with a new God-given perspective, "I feel like I was wrestling with God - and I have the hip to prove it."

But, of course, the symptom wasn't my hip - it was a genuine soul-wrestling with the question, "Is this all there is?" Is this evil world where babies die too early and husbands leave this life without saying good-bye or even a farewell kiss. Where people destroy others, intentionally and unintentionally, and the endless pressure of social etiquette and friendly smiles hide hurting hearts. Is this where we're really stuck until God chooses to take us home? And why? What is the point of all this? If true joy is found in Heaven why are we stuck here? Because I'm looking at the future from a summit of a decent life and feeling the pain is going to hit much closer to home before I'll ever be ready. And I'd rather not. Thanks, but no thanks. Just take me home and let's leave this world behind.

And for the first time, I felt the truth of Paul's words. "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Death, from this perspective, seemed nothing but gain - something to hope for. Now, don't misunderstand me - I was never on the precipice of calling the game early, but I didn't fear that final buzzer, either.

In my wrestlings and angst, I felt the answer from God that if I'm still here, it's because He has me here for His purpose. I came to Paul's conclusion, "But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account," In this instance, I knew I was here for my family more than anything. "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith" (Philippians 1:24-25). I was at peace with that answer at the time.

But for months I continued to wrestle with a deep aching. A depression of sorts, that left me feeling there had to be something deeper. I sought doctors and counseling, knowing there must be a fix for this emptiness I couldn't shake. My counselor asked me what I hoped to accomplish through our sessions, "I just want to feel joy in the moment." It was that joy I was lacking. My mother reminded me, "Joy is only found in Christ." And I knew that. And I actually felt closer to him than ever before, but the joy was still gone.

I knew this was something more than the stress of having a house filled with children who still can't wipe their own bottoms or just the transition to a new home or the sorrow over friends and family enduring tragedy. This was a deep spiritual ache. And no amount of scheduling my life, making lists of happy moments or attempts at self-focus was going to appease the longing. I needed more than just an honest look into me.

Fast forward to yesterday.

Or, first, back up. As a part of the women's Bible study I attend, we have been working through a book titled "66 Love Letters" by Dr. Larry Crabb. A book written from the perspective of a man having a conversation with God as He travels through each book of the Bible, attempting to draw out the actual purpose of each individual letter God placed in His Word.

With a heart freshly torn open I have found myself feeling the true emotional roller coaster of the relationship between God and His broken people. Every turning from him hurt my heart, every filled promise lifted it back up again. The calls to turn from idols dug deep and pulled out my own.

I have truly felt every word in these letters God has written to us and packaged together in this book of His Word. This story of His patience, anger, and redemption have hit me in ways I had never known in all my years of Sunday School, VBS and short-term missions.

Now we fast forward . . . All the way to Letter Twenty-One: Ecclesiastes.

Please, no.

I actually dreaded opening up the book. Ecclesiastes, I knew, was that depressing book written by Solomon at the end of his life. I was already broken and messed up enough - I wasn't sure I could handle the tone of such a heavy book. I knew the hopelessness in his detailing the futility of life and I did not need to feel that to my core as I had felt the rest of the messages in this Word.

But I'm a rules-follower. A homework-doer. Someone who can't walk away from an assignment. And this was my assignment for the week. So I turned the page.

The author speaks, "For several months now, God, I've wondered if I'm clinically depressed. . . . I'm feeling emptier than ever before. And confused. More cynical too. Nothing really brings me deep joy. All day long I find myself asking, 'So what?' or 'Why bother' I do what I have to do to get by . . . but I'd prefer to do nothing. But that prospect bores me too" (p 100).

I sat up straighter, clinging to this cliff-hanger. This is me. How could he know? And what does he have to say to that?

"God" responds, "Hear Me well: Until you fall into the dignity of despair where these words about Me mean nothing to you and where service for Me seems futile; Until the wisdom that comes easily fails to stir you with hope; . . . Until time with friends doesn't energize you as it once did; . . . Until you have nowhere to turn for the satisfaction of your soul's desire, not to the Bible, not to prayer, not to music, not to friends, not to church; Until all this happens, you will never dance to heaven's music as I designed you to dance. You will not hear My song of love as clearly and beautifully as I sing it. You will not know that every moment of your life is a perfectly tuned note in the eternal harmony" (p 101-102).

And as I read these words - this conversation about the heart of Ecclesiastes - I saw my heart. Everything I had been feeling for months but had been inadequate to express. I wanted to pick up my book and give it a big hug. It understands me, I thought. And, more importantly, maybe I'm not just crazy.

Maybe this is a place God has brought me so I can recognize there truly is no life apart from Him. Even when life is going well, it will not satisfy my soul. And though I knew that on a head level, I had not felt the empty despair of a life that wants nothing, nothing but to cling to Christ for all of eternity. I had wanted Him before - but I had wanted Him with everything else. And now there is no deeper longing of My heart than to know Christ and to be with Christ.

And this is the place He had to bring me before He could lift me into His joy.

I know these words would not have reverberated with everyone who read them - but from where I am at in my journey, I now find a hope in the despair of Ecclesiastes. And I cherish the conclusion of Solomon,

"All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 AMP).

Fear God. Keep His commandments. Accept His salvation. All the rest is just a prelude for what is to come. Savor it.

03 November 2014

Of Our Scientist

Remember when I told you Emmett was our sponge? Our questioner, our scientist, the one voted most likely to push this homeschooling momma to learn a lot more about everything just to satisfy his insane desire for knowing exactly how the world works.

Questions that have me honestly answering, "You know, I actually don't even understand how that works - I just know it does." Questions like "How does the other phone know you're calling it?" which leads to "How do phones have their own numbers?" Follow-ups as simple as, "Why?" are not good enough for this guy. He literally thinks through my answers and comes up with legitimate inquiries based on that new knowledge.

So then we had Daylight Savings Time.

Blow this kid's mind.

The poor guy, as the days have been getting shorter through the fall, has begun having mild breakdowns when the sun begins to set. "It's already bed-time and we haven't even had dinner!" Now, on the one hand, I totally want to work this "sundown = bedtime" misconception - especially now, post Daylight Savings Time: "Oh look, Daddy just got home from work, but, bummer! It's bedtime! See you guys later!"

But I do tend to have issues with lying to my kids. Darn conscience.

Thus, I've been trying to explain that the sun just starts setting earlier during the fall. Thus, Saturday, as we were at the grocery store, pre-dinner, while the sun was setting and he was crying, again, about not having eaten (eating is REALLY important to our kids), I went so far as to explain that the next day, it would even be dark when we went to evening church/children's choir.

Lo and behold, as we're gathering children into the car to head to choir, the remainder light of the day was glimmering through the twilight. "Momma, did you tell me it would be dark before we go to church? How did you know it would be dark?"

"Well, it's something called Daylight Savings Time - we had to change the time on the clocks, so now it gets dark earlier."

"How do you change the time?! That's silly!" "Well, we just change what time the clock says." "But how do you change what the clock says?" "We just do." (aka the Lazy Mom's way of saying, I can't explain it right now - we were in the car, so it wasn't exactly an option to pull out the clock and show him how it works.)


"Momma?" "Yes?" "How do the clocks control the world?"

Bam. Well, now that's a good solid question from a four-year-old.

So, then I have to go into dynamics about how the world itself does its thing without changing - the only thing that changes is what time the clock says, which affects when things like children's choir starts.

But really, I'm just grasping at straws, trying to describe this crazy world in a language a little boy can understand.

And somehow he's soaking it all in, despite my worst efforts.

All I know is google was invented for such a time as this.

28 October 2014

Of the Ways They Interrupt

Every morning (or as best fits into the day's schedule) we read an excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible, after Momma has finished her eggs and while the kids continue to munch on their cereal. We've cycled through the story of God's people a few times by now, and each time we finish, we just come right back to The Beginning.

Today was the most serious of the readings. The Crucifixion.

As I read about how He carried his cross and the soldiers mocked him, trying my best, with my voice, to portray the gravity of the moment, each of my children clamored for my attention. Emmett, sitting closest, placed his hand gently on my arm. Joseph shot his arm in the air, Micaiah's hand also stood raised.

I finished the page and turned the book to show the pictures as I addressed them each in turn.

"Yes, Emmett?" I acknowledged his gentle waiting hand.

"Um, in the song, they call it a 'tree' - or, I mean, in the story at church. And, um, also . . . Not now, but on the next page, I mean the next chapter it's coming, they're going to put Him in the Tomb."

"That's right, Emmett. What did you need Micaiah?"

"Um, I think we should go Me, Emmett and Joseph to pray for breakfast, lunch and dinner." That's right, before the story started, the kids had been arguing over who would pray for the meal, just as always.

"Micaiah, it is up to Mommy and Daddy to decide who will pray and when. You will not make a chart or set a schedule. We will decide for whatever reasons we choose."

She pouts and I turn to Joseph, still waiting with his arm up.

"Yes, Joseph?"

"Um, Jesus - monkeys like bananas!"

"Yes, yes they do."

Those are my children in a nutshell. Emmett, the sponge - always listening, soaking things in, making connections and asking questions. Micaiah, the planner - with a solution to every problem and a plan to make things right (what else from the girl who arrived on her due date - right on schedule). Joseph, well, Joseph.

Man, I love these kids.

06 October 2014

Of the Blissfulness of Ignorance

It has been over a half a year since a momma on the other side of this state last held her sweet boy in her arms. And though I call her family, I still feel on the outside of this grief looking in, borrowing something I feel I don't have the right to call mine. And I watch her grieve and I hurt for her and I pray for her. And this past week, as she continues through this unending journey, she wrote these words - the words I can understand deeply,

"I hate "Angela Before." I hate that she let Maverick slip through her fingers, and that she didn't absorb every bit of his 108 days. I hate what she did to my only memories of my son. She paid no attention to the details and now those memories are foggy. I hate her, and I am jealous of what she had, and what she took for granted.
I don't miss her. But I do miss what she had. I, the new me, "Angela Now", would have done so much better with Maverick's short life.
If only she could have known before the reality and the frailty of life that I know now."

And though I see where she is coming from, I feel a need to respond, from the other side. I don't know that my words will ease any amount of pain, but I have wrestled this lesson myself and thought maybe we could all use the reminder. He gives us only the knowledge we need, because we couldn't handle the rest. So, I wrote her a letter, which is really an open letter to us all . . .

Dear “Angela Now,"

You have been through more than any person deserves and I know I can’t even understand the depth of your pain because I am over here on this side, as an “Angela Before,” trying my best to learn the lessons your laid-open bare, bleeding heart has been vulnerable enough to share.

And I need you to know.

“Angela Before” was neither stupid nor na├»ve. She was unaware. But for a reason.

Because as much as the old adage tries to tell us it’s possible, we simply cannot live every day as though it were our last. Living our lives with that kind of intensity for an indeterminate amount of time will simply burn us out.

Yes, if “Angela Before” had known she only had three and a half months, she surely would have done things differently. That kind of intense focus on memorizing every detail of a too-short life could probably be sustained for, literally, a season.

But take it from this ”Angela Before” – the one trying so hard to live the lessons gleaned from “Angela Now” – it’s not possible without the knowing. The knowing of how long these precious lives will last. And the not knowing, yet constant anticipating can, and will, drive an “Angela Before” crazy. Not knowing whose life will end first – mine or theirs? Which one relationship in my life needs this kind of constant focus before the flame is snuffed too early? Or is it possible to soak in every moment of every one of these beautiful little lives before me? To commit every second to memory – memories I can cling to if they’re taken before I planned or thought?

And this “Angela Before” finds herself in a curled-up, fetal, crying mess on her bed feeling it’s not enough. The unknown time will never be enough to capture all of this. And can I live every moment to its fullest while still creating some semblance of a home and a life for myself and my children. And when I have burned myself out in attempting to soak it all in and not miss one moment – what does “Angela Before” do. Because taking a moment for herself means missing a moment of them. And what can be done?

So, take it easy on “Angela Before.” She had a lot to focus on. She had a budding toddler establishing herself in the new role of big sister, but also growing in her own right. She had a home to manage – because drawers run out of clothes quicker than we imagine. And she had a husband that needed her to notice him, too.

So she loved her little boy with all she had and she did a fantastic job with the limited resource of time she had.

She wasn’t stupid.

She didn’t know – and that’s not the same.

God was protecting her fragile heart while giving her time - not to hoard like a maniac knowing it will never be enough, but to slowly savor in the sweet bliss of ignorance.

Don’t hate her.

Love that she is the one who held your sweet boy in those precious midnight hours. She calmed his tears. She gave him his first kisses and his last. Appreciate the fact that she was able to enjoy his soft snuggles without worry for the future, but in the beauty of living in the present. Thank her for taking care of him the best she knew how. Give her a sweet hug and let her rest now. Her job is done. 
It’s your turn now, to carry on where she left off.

And God is more than able to carry both a messed-up crazy “Angela Before” and a worn out, grieving “Angela Now” as we navigate the unknowns of this continual journey.

With love and prayers,
Just another “Angela Before”

08 September 2014

Of Why I Had Children

In yet another moment of motherly frustration this weekend, I thought to myself, sarcastically, "Why did I have kids, again?" It's a question my husband and I ask each other often, as we tease one another over the silly and genuinely difficult things our kids do on any given day.

It wasn't until that moment, however, that I heard God speak to me about how accurately that question reflects our culture's view of children. Because implicit in such an inquiry is the idea that we had these kids for us. For our benefit, our joy and as our accomplishments. Yet, so often, they bring us just the opposite - hardship, anger and a sense of failure.

So, it's a legitimate question, really. Why did we have kids? Why does anyone have kids?

If I took a truthful look back at that moment early in our marriage when we excitedly decided we were throwing caution to the wind and taking that next big step, I would tell you I had no better reason than that's what it felt like we should do. Because I didn't plan out this life beyond going to college, so I was kind of winging it. Here we were, young, in love, past that difficult, difficult battle called the first year of marriage. We had bought a house because, well, we thought that's what adults do. The next obvious step looked like kids.

And, yeah, the idea of a little baby to snuggle sounded kind of fun, too.

So, with reckless abandon, we jumped into the decision to make us a little person and were blessed with an instantaneous pregnancy. And I had no idea what I was getting into.

Because here's what no one really told me. Kids aren't just something you do or "the next step." And if you want something adorable to snuggle who is easy to train and will love you unconditionally, get a dog.

That is NOT why we have children.

But if you want to have a significant part in growing up the generation that will come after us, to lead our nation, create the next big innovations, raise the standards of our culture and continue to grow the generations after them, then by all means - go to it.

And that's what our society seems to misunderstand when they see mothers and their babies.

Children are NOT accessories.

They're not something we get because we think it'll be fun. They're not to be discarded when they're too difficult to handle. We don't surround ourselves with just the right number, as if there IS a right number. Because, truth be told, I can't handle four children - I can barely handle one some days.

But God doesn't give us what He thinks we can handle - only what He knows He can handle.

And when I rely on Him and recognize my children as real, live, imperfect people, living under the sinful consequences of the fall, I can see those little frustrations, not as personal setbacks to my own happiness, but as jumping off points to create character, in both myself and in them.

I can see them as individuals with personalities who are only mine to borrow, as I take on the task of guiding them where God leads. They will grow and, with God's help, develop into independent people with their own thoughts and ideas that may not always match mine.

But that's ok.

Because that's not why I had children.

09 August 2014

Of Changed Plans

I wake up earlier than I want on a Saturday morning (but that's nothing new, is it?). The plans for today aren't what I had looked forward to. I had anticipated a lazy day, where we had no plans, because sometimes no plan at all is just the plan you need to re-charge and reconnect as a family - particularly when the last time you had that no-plan, a mere week ago, Mommy spent the morning raging at kids who didn't deserve it, slamming cabinets until their frames fell apart, and finally leaving the mess for her husband to deal with, because something inside her just couldn't take it all - all of this thing called life.

Yet, on this same Saturday morning, another woman awakes - if she slept at all, because who can sleep when the warmth beside her is gone? When there were sounds through the night and your protector is missing - and won't ever return? She awakes, if she even caught those forty winks, through the night-sounds and the nightmares, to find she is still in the nightmare.

How had she planned, just a week ago, to spend this day? Was there a birthday party to attend? A gathering of friends, family? Was he finally going to get to that project she'd been bothering him to finish? Or just mow the yard so it could be clean cut for another week? Had she planned to snuggle in just a little longer next to that man of hers, pretending they couldn't hear the kids down the hall, for just a few minutes? Or do their boys toddle in to crawl into bed, asking where's Daddy? At work? No, not at work, because he never made it to work on Tuesday morning, when he slipped quietly out of the house in the early morning hours to go earn a paycheck and take care of his family.

I grieve for her. I grieve for the third time in less than a year and a half for a woman too young to be widowed. A woman now left alone with two little boys who don't understand why they can't wrestle with Daddy - one of whom may be too young to even remember his face a year from now. And then there's the one in her womb - the one they announced to the world only a few weeks ago - the one who will never meet this man called "Daddy."

And she'll have to do it all alone. Or at the very least without the one who is half of the life inside of her - who was all of her life on the outside. The ultrasounds, the first kicks, the first contractions, the first push, the first cry - all without him who helped her create this miracle (though, thankfully, she has Him Who is the creator of all miracles).

And I thought my life was too much?

So I awake on this Saturday morning, the same one where she will be saying final good-byes to a man with whom she had planned to spend her entire life, not realizing his would end at twenty-four, to serve her. A minuscule gesture of love to someone who is hurting more than I can imagine. In a world that is too much pain.

And it's not what I planned, but then, it's not what she planned, either.

01 August 2014

Of Losing Her Teeth (Literally)

Way back in January (which feels like yesterday), I took Micaiah for her regular dental check-up, where she received exciting news: she had her first loose tooth! Now, of course, as we all know, if it took a dentist to tell you your tooth was loose, it's probably not on the precipice of falling out just yet. But Micaiah, who has been waiting for this moment ever since she first watched The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist at the tender age of three, was ecstatic.

And for months we got to hear her tell everyone she met, "I have a looth tooth!" performing her best mimicry of Sister Bear's loose-tooth-lisp (try to say that without lisping). So, the day before Easter, on a Saturday morning visit to the donut shop, we smiled and nodded while she, once again, told us about her precious tooth. Until I got finished paying and joined my family at the table, where my husband said, "You need to see this"

Lo and behold, that tooth was loose! More than dentist-tapping-on-it loose, but tongue-wiggling-it-prominently loose. "That's going to come out in the next couple days," he declared.

He may have over-estimated.

That very afternoon, Micaiah came from her room after nap time to tell me a sad story, "I was playing with my tooth and fell out and now I can't find it!"

Wait. Back up. It what? "Wait, is your tooth in your mouth?!"

"No! I don't know where it is!"

Still processing. "It came out?"

"Yes, and then I lost it!"

You're telling me! She lost a tooth! Her first tooth! And she was more upset at the literal losing of the tooth than at the fact that she now had a distinct hole in her bite. No worries, though, Daddy came to the rescue and found that tooth in the thick pile of her new carpet (we had just moved in a few weeks before and the texture, thick enough to lose something in, was still new to her). And our baby girl got to leave her first tooth under her pillow. And the Tooth Fairy almost forgot for the first time to give her a dollar.

And of course, our precious planner, put that dollar right in her future-car fund. She has much more restraint than her mother.

Fast forward a couple of months. She had started it again, insisting the tooth right next to the half-filled hole, where her new chomper is pushing it's way into place, was loose. And sure enough, it was a little wiggly. And by two nights ago, as we prayed for her before bed time, her smile showed a distinctly crooked tooth - it was barely hanging on.

Thus, after breakfast yesterday morning, when she came to me with the same story, "I lost my tooth. I don't know where it is!" I was a little less surprised, but no less excited. We were able to narrow the time down to realize she probably lost it while she ate, but the little guy is still missing.

Thus, she wrote a note and left it dutifully under her pillow, hoping the Fairy would understand. Unfortunately, the Tooth Fairy's response must have fallen out from under the pillow while she slept, so the poor girl woke up thinking the Fairy had taken the note, been utterly disappointed in her and left nothing in return. I can only imagine the shame she bore for the hour or so until Momma found the new note and read it to her.

No worries, she found the dollar the Tooth Fairy dropped under her bed - and this one isn't going in the car money - it went straight into the money purse. This one is getting spent.

As for me, I'm ready for this little girl to stop taking the phrase "losing a tooth" quite so literally.

(Side Note: She's totally wearing the same skirt in those pictures. Considering she doesn't wear that skirt every day or anything, I find that humorous. Could just be me.)

28 July 2014

Of Continuing the Tradition

Once upon a time there was a little girl - a princess in her own right. And every month, as a part of the routine school day, she would receive a precious white sheet of paper containing the key to the realm holding her some of her family's most precious memories. For on that paper were coupons . . . to a magical place called . . . Skateland.

And just about once a month, the family would load up the car on Friday night, head to the edge of the kingdom of La Vista, Nebraska, and pull into the parking lot of the white brick building with bold black lettering spanning the length of the wall, declaring its name to the world. They would find a secluded table, lace up their tan rentals with orange wheels and hit the polished wood rink. The lights were always too dark to make out much, unless you were there, in the center of the action, or you donned your very own glow stick.

And when the announcer would declare a couples skate, the princess would push herself off the floor, except for that magical time of night when it was her turn with the king - her daddy. And they would hold hands as they floated around the rink to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus crying about his Achy Breaky Heart.

They were fond memories, indeed.

That same princess grew up. And though it had been years, the day she married her very own prince, they celebrated on a rink of blue. They danced their first dance and skated their first skate in their beautiful wedding attire. And her mother and father, who had spent months joining awkward pre-teens at their local rink, preparing their bodies for the task at hand, were there, too.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Thus, the princess found herself, eight years later - having not donned skates since that magical day she joined her life with her prince - at the same skating rink with her very own little princess.

The little one's legs were shaky and unsure. The orange wheels pulled themselves from under her more than once and she eventually needed a brace - patched together from PVC pipe and a little duct tape - to even stay upright without her mother using every muscle to keep her on her feet. The little princess was scared - terrified, even - but she pushed through. She would take a lap and take a break, but each time, she would muster up her resolve and declare, "I want to go back out there." She fell and let her mommy pick her up. She teased her mommy when she, too, took a couple of stumbles. She wore a brave smile and let loose cautious giggles. She was vulnerable and courageous. And they skated the couple skate (though no Billy Ray Cyrus was to be heard) and watched the glow-skate. The older princess was proud, heart overflowing.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Lacing her up (this task is SO much harder than it looks!)

Ready to roll!

This face, her expression after her first go-around, sans brace, sums up how she felt about the experience in the beginning.

Stretching her skating legs.

*Many thanks to the dear friends who invited Micaiah to her first-ever skating party and for letting me join in the fun!

19 July 2014

Of Vacation Bible School

I wasn't going to help with VBS. I mean, I really wasn't going to. Because, while I love my own kids, working with little kids has never really been my thing. I didn't baby-sit much when I was younger, and when I did, well, let's just say I never had repeat customers. Once upon a time I thought I'd actually teach elementary school, but an experience as a camp counselor with a crying fourth-grader taught me I'd much rather deal with older kids - the ones who could understand and appreciate my sarcasm and bump their heads without being sent to the nurse.

So Vacation Bible School? No. Not for me.

As the signs were going up, I was getting my excuses ready. I'd just had a baby - I should stay home with her. I was looking forward to the time with my boys, while older sister was learning about Jesus. We'd go to the library, maybe even go to the movies. It was going to be nice. And it wasn't going to involve me wrangling a bunch of other peoples' kids.

But God has a funny way of talking us into things. And He was real subtle about it, too.

Because first, it was that our church was taking a mission trip to my in-laws' church to do - guess what - VBS. And I wasn't necessarily going to participate in that, but wouldn't it be nice to at least visit Gram and Grandy while our church was there? But then we could just ride with the church, right? But I guess if we're going to ride with the church we should actually help. Darn it.

And so we did. I actually taught crafts (ok, I assisted someone else who put a great deal of time and effort into planning and then teaching - I mostly just manned the hot glue gun, a task I hate, but it was a mission trip after all, it's all about expanding the comfort zone, even if that means burnt fingers and strings of glue) while my littles, led by Gram, made the rounds.

And it was so darn cute watching little two-year-old Joseph, proudly holding his Bible Story paper, huge grin on his face, as he went from one class to another. And hearing him sing the songs on the way home each evening? Be still my heart.

Then it hit me. My boys love this. I mean, they really enjoy VBS. And now they know what VBS is. So, darn it, if I'm taking their big sister to VBS at our church and we're dropping her off together, they'll know what they're missing. And a trip to the library isn't going to cut it.

I was in a quandary. Until someone suggested I volunteer. Because the children of volunteers, particularly those in Emmett's age bracket, would get to participate in VBS.

So for the sake of not hearing a tantrum every morning for a week, I sacrificed my excuses and signed myself up. But maybe I'd just help with snacks. Because if there's one thing I can do, it's feed people.

But God had other plans. I wasn't just working with the kids - I was going to work with the littlest ones - the ones who just graduated from Pre-K and Kindergarten - the ones most apt to cry and be incapable of standing in a line. But who would have guessed? By the middle of the week, I was actually having fun. I had the privilege of watching my big girl answer questions in Bible School and make new friends. I hugged and loved on little ones who weren't my own, but gave me the sweetest grins. I held little hands and supervised bathroom visits. And I wasn't really hating any of it.

And this morning? On the last day? God showed me the purpose of all of it.

My big little boy, the one I did all this for - just so he could go to Bible School - told me he wanted to take "a lot" of money to church, so I took his monster bank down from the shelf. I pulled out bills from past birthday money. The first I pulled out was a twenty, which seemed like maybe too much, so I dug around until I found a five. And I explained to him which was which. He had been completely satisfied with the 17 cents he'd taken earlier in the week and I'd wondered if he might change his mind, after all, and opt for the handful of coins that had come out, as well. He chose the twenty.

I wasn't sure he understood what he was doing, so, just to check, I asked, "Why do you want to take so much money to church?"

I thought he would mention the balloon he would get to put in the big representative drinking glass, the visual reminder of why they were collecting money anyway. Or he might mention just getting to put the money in the green bucket.

Instead, he said, "So that lots of kids in India can have clean water!"

Oh my goodness. And a little child led me.

This VBS thing? The thing I fought so hard? It's changing the hearts of my children.

And to be honest? It's changing the heart of their mother.

I'm thinking God knows what He's doing. And my name just might be the first on that volunteer list next year.

12 July 2014

Of Raising Cowboys

The beauty of living in a smallish/biggish town is that it's the best of both worlds. We've got what this "city"(ish) girl calls civilization (because as soul-sucking as it is, I used to believe you couldn't call it a town if it didn't have a Wal-Mart - Oklahoma has well proven me wrong by now), but we've also got a little bit country going on over here. Which means we can take an afternoon drive through the back roads to see horses and cattle (and squirrels - which we didn't have much of in our old house, so Micaiah called them "wild animals" when we saw them on the outskirts).

It also means every summer . . . the rodeo comes to town! And this isn't your average small-town rodeo. I mean, it's a big-time deal, with participants from all over the nation converging on our streets and grocery stores for a week every July.

And I used to not really care. I'd notice the signs in town welcoming the visitors, and I'd notice the increase in traffic, but that was about it. The hullabaloo didn't have much to do with me (I was still clinging to the city in me, I suppose).

And then I had kids. Kids who, like all little ones, love animals and cowboys. And I saw the yearly rodeo with new eyes - an experience our children would adore. So, this year, we piled in and headed out.

I didn't tell them before-hand where we were headed (which can be a hit-or-miss strategy - sometimes it leads to squeals of excitement when they figure it out, other times it leads to, "But where's the surprise?"), but as we traversed the parking lot, spying teenagers in wide-brimmed hats grooming their steed, they started the squealing. Cowboys! Cowgirls!

And as we entered the arena, with a sea of real cowboys and girls atop their horses, waiting for their turn to compete, they were in awe. And so was I.

Here was this crowd of teenagers, mostly, who had the discipline and drive to devote themselves to the animals in their care - training them to move with precision and speed. They had trained their own bodies to endure the trials of being bucked from animals weighing hundreds of pounds. They had learned to wrestle cattle, throw an effective lasso and avoid the stomping hooves of angry bulls.

I want my kids to be cowboys. And if they can't manage to procure their own beasts of burden, perhaps they can find some way to at least rein in the spirit of perseverance and hard work that comes with the territory. I want them to own the courage and tenacity it takes to pick yourself up, dust off your pants, and get right back in the ring. I want them to tackle their problems with focus and determination, prepared to wrangle the issue to the ground and lift their hands in triumph upon completion (even if victory was more difficult and harder coming than anticipated).

And it wouldn't hurt if they'd don a cowboy hat every now then - because everyone looks good in a cowboy hat.

Suckers instantly make any experience that much better.

Look at all those cowboys back there!

It was a rainy day, so here she is, middle of July, cuddling from the cold. As she snuggled, I taught her to count the seconds during the bull riding, to judge how good the ride was. She got just as excited as we did when a couple riders stayed on for the full eight-count.

16 June 2014

Of My Twenties

In less than two weeks I will turn thirty years old.

I have less than two weeks left as a twenty-something.

I recognize aging as a symptom of being alive, but I still find myself aching as I grasp the truth. Less than two weeks left of a decade I could never have predicted.


In the summer of 2004 I crossed the threshold of this era of my life. I was working as a counselor at a girls camp in Maine and marked the occasion with a bouquet of roses from my best friend and a movie with fellow counselors. At the time I had no reason to believe I would ever travel to Russia or even have any interest in its language, culture or people - I definitely would not have believed that before I turned 21 I would have fallen in love with all three while riding marshrutkas beside the Volga River. I didn't even know where that was.


The summer of 2005 found me fresh off the high of my unexpected international experience and working at McDonald's  -yet another unexpected twist. I had just heard of something called Facebook for the first time, but was busy with a new blog, so I wasn't really interested in signing up for something else. A serial single, I might have laughed (while secretly hoping you were right) if you'd told me I would be a married woman before I was 22 - to a boy I had yet to meet.


By summer 2006 I was a newlywed and a college graduate about to embark on my first (and would I have believed?) only year teaching Spanish in a public school. I was waiting for my husband and new best friend to graduate and then who knew where life would take us. But by the next summer I would be a homeowner, planting tender roots in a town where I had never intended to stay.


Summer 2007 - settling into my new home, making it ours. I still had a job and had no clue I would be packing up my classroom in about a month, especially not by choice.  And my husband? The one who was starting a new job just after my birthday? He would be working a different job than that, even, by next year, and that would be the one to settle us into this town for good. That husband of mine and I were going to Ecuador with our church soon and did I know that would be the last time for five years (after seven years of various expeditions) that I would be boarding an international flight - and the next time I did would be with my four-year-old daughter? Did I know that daughter would begin filling my womb that very winter?


And that's how it went, as that whirlwind of a decade went on - summer in and summer out for six more years. Every summer either pregnant or with a new baby.





In fact, it was one year ago on my birthday we made the trip to tell our families, Joey wearing his new shirt declaring him a "Big Brother," that we were expanding again. And did I know that would also be the last time I would tell my grandmother I love her?


Ten years, one wedding, four babies, two houses, six jobs (between two people), two dogs (come and gone) and three cats.

The one constant? My little silver Chevy that has seen it all.

And God. He has carried me here, to the threshold of yet another new beginning. Another decade.
And while I mourn the loss of my twenties, I eagerly anticipate the future.

My new future as a thirty-something.

14 June 2014

Of My Backwards Dad

I can see it now, the maroon trucker’s hat (though in those days they were just called ball caps, back when hard nylon netting and a cheap polyester wrapped around a foam core was what all baseball hats looked like) with the bold white lettering spelling out “SPUD.” I don’t know why he owned that hat, but I know when I realized “SPUD” backward was “DUPS” Dad decided that would be my nickname. It wasn’t a long-lasting name, but it came out every time he wore the hat.

And I can see it on his head as we finished one of our many camping trips along the Platte River, the ones where we had our perfect spot, backed right up in the alcove bordered by a thin strip of woods before we met a small stream deviating from the larger river – the stream Dad fell in once, when we visited for a day in the winter and he didn’t realize he was heavier than the icy barrier could handle. He wore that hat as he and I competed in the ritual egg toss that signaled the end of our camping adventures. He always saved at least three eggs from those he cooked every morning on the Coleman camp stove – because he couldn’t go a morning without his sunny-side-ups - so each of us could have a shot at besting the others, seeing who was really the best at tossing an egg with Dad.

And that name, “DUPS,” isn’t the only time he took the “backwards” approach. Maybe I was so fascinated by reading backwards because my dad taught me the alphabet backward before I learned it forward – a fact I’m still a little proud of to this day, because it makes me unique. And I can still rattle it off, starting at “Z,” just as fast as I can forward. Thanks, Dad.

So, for all those times he seemed to be doing it a little backwards, a little unconventionally, I still appreciate the Dad my father was. He wasn’t always perfect, and he still isn’t, but he has never given up, on himself or on us, and has only improved with age.  Happy Father’s Day to the reason I’m here.

04 June 2014

Of Being a Mother of Four

Despite the raging amounts of insanity that can occur in this home on a daily basis, I have learned, within the past couple of months, that there are some distinct perks to being a mother of four (other than knowing, of course, that I have birthed four beautiful children who make me crazy, yes, but also make me laugh daily and I consider myself greatly blessed).

One of these being the insta-excuse I now have for what might previously have been labeled "laziness," "poor time management," or "crazy emotional psychosis." Now it's simply, "Oh, don't worry about it, you're a mother of four!"

Late for church? I'm a mother of four. Messy house? I'm a mother of four. Screaming like mad or curled up sobbing in the corner? I'm a mother of four. Oh, did I forget your birthday? Oops. Did I mention I'm the mother of four?

It's as though toting four little people around as my personal entourage has suddenly depleted me of all expectations of acting like a responsible human being (unless, of course, those four monkeys are running around like hooligans [ok, three would be running, the fourth might just be crying], in which case, I have failed the only responsibility I have been given - being the mother of four).

Don't get me wrong - I hate the idea that my inability to keep all my ducks in a row is often blamed on my children who are, in fact, a few of those ducks themselves. To me, it's like saying it's ok if my children look like ragamuffins because I own a lot of dishes that need to be washed. The fact is, I'm responsible for a lot of things and those adorable little people are my primary priority, but I hate feeling like a failure in other aspects of life simply because I'm a mother of four.

Because four is apparently the magic number at which sanity has clearly left the room and a woman is now over-extended beyond capacity.

BUT, on the flip side of that coin, on the days when I can make it happen and we can get out the door and we arrive somewhere on time, or I've vacuumed the house, or I put dinner on the table, I'm suddenly super woman.

It's like people are amazed I can still dress myself, let alone do anything else meaningful. So anything above keeping those children alive is a miracle. And I am, thereby, a superhero by the mere fact that I can still complete a sentence and fold some laundry.

Yay me!

It's an ego boost, really.

So, let's re-cap: as a mother of four I'm now off the hook for any semblance of responsibility, but if I do accomplish something, I'm amazing.

Not gonna lie, things could be worse.

03 June 2014

Of Summer

Today was the day the kids have been looking forward to since last August. They have asked almost weekly over the past nine months, "Is it summer?!" (Yes, they even asked as we drove past snow-covered trees and stepped over ice slicks in the parking lot - we might need to work more on our seasons.)

And today was finally the day I could say, "Yes." (without going into the technicalities regarding solstices and the like). Because today was the day we signed up for the Summer Reading Program at our local library.

Because they understand that summer at the library means toys - particularly a small new treasure to take home each week. And everyone knows that's what the library is for - toys (and computer time). Those bookshelves everywhere? Those are just something to run between on our way to the toys.

Fortunately, with those months between the summers, they have learned to enjoy story time at the library and the stacks of books mom picks out to coordinate with the homeschooling theme for the moment (this week is elephants). They enjoy picking out their own books (typically board books, since those are the only kind Mommy lets them look at in the car on the way home - I'll risk my own pages, but the library books are a little more precious!) and movies (but not Pokemon, because . . . well, just because).

But we all know this was just the build-up for the main event. Because nothing beats a sticker chart and a treasure bowl.

Or basically free stuff.

Okay, so maybe they're my children.

This year's Summer Reading Program theme is "Fizz, Boom, Read", which means there are now science-related toys to play with while visiting the library. I'm telling you, it's all about the toys.

09 May 2014

Of My Less Than Perfect Life

Sometimes it seems we all enjoy perfect little lives. If we looked at Facebook or social media, we would think everyone else is spending their time playing with smiling children, eating fresh-picked raspberries, snuggling their beautiful babies and indulging in that delicious chocolate concoction starring in the latest instagram photo.

And our lives do include those moments. Precious moments, to be sure. Documenting them helps us to remember we have things for which to be grateful.

But what about the in-between moments? The ones we don't share on facebook? Because no one wants to see our ugly. Sure, there are the humorous reminders that sometimes the kids are crying or the laundry didn't get done and by now we all realize that ours aren't the only clothes never getting ironed. And in those posts we can remember life isn't always sunshine and roses and we aren't the only ones letting the ball drop just occasionally.

But do we acknowledge that when we're not laughing off our failures we may be laying in the fetal position crying over a life that sometimes overwhelms in the little things. That even when, from the outside life seems grand, on the inside turmoil is winning?

Because here's my moment of honesty - I have failed. More often than not, I fail to see the joy and the blessings. And what I see is a house - a beautiful, brand new-to-us home - that isn't put together. That feels like it will never be "done," because amid the painting and unpacking that continues to be pushed to "tomorrow," the daily tasks have returned. There are still dishes and laundry and dirty floors and hungry children. And the kitchen counters feel they'll never be fully cleared. The floors will always have something for me to trip on. The children will always find something to cry about.

And so will I.

And my to-do list will never be done and my children will never be fully satisfied in what I can do for them. And the days can't all be spent doing nothing but snuggling and picking raspberries (I don't even know where I would find one).

And when I find myself in these moments, when all the world seems to be caving in, caused by nothing but the little nothings that shouldn't even matter, where do I turn?

And this is where I have failed. Because I don't turn to the Peace that passes understanding or my Help in times of trouble or the Source of grace when I need it most. I turn to me, and I see where I have lacked, and I crumble. I turn to the world, the perfect posts of happy lives, and I fall apart.

And it's not the fault of the internet or anything found there. It's not the fault of the laundry or the dishes or the children. It's the fault, the lacking, of my firm foundation that should keep me from crumbling. Because in prioritizing my days based on what needs to be done, or who I need to be, rather than on the One for whom I live, I have allowed the cracks in that foundation, so that the little nothings have seeped in and threatened to bring it all crashing down. And I feel like that shouldn't be true, couldn't be true - because I haven't seen the worst of what could fall upon us. I haven't endured what others have. But a swarm of gnawing termites can bring a house down just as surely as the tornado that wreaks destruction.

So this is me, crying out, but praying. Praying that nothing would matter more to me than my foundation and that the maintenance of my relationship with my first love (Revelation 2:4) would become not only my top priority, but my only priority, and everything else, built upon that Rock, will be added unto me (Matthew 6:33). I'm turning to Him for my perspective and my security. He is the strength of my heart.

05 May 2014

Of My Little Treasure

At six weeks, our little Niah girl was sleeping seven hours straight at night (then returning to sleep for another five hours or so after a quick 10-20 min feeding). At seven weeks she was sleeping 10 hours solid. We'd lay her down when Mom and Dad went to sleep and she'd be the last to rise in the morning (which is amazing considering the amount of volume created by her siblings as they entertain each other in their rooms - right next door to hers - every morning).

On the one hand - the one that recognizes I'm a momma of four who needs her rest if she's to keep Mean Mommy at bay - I was grateful for the uninterrupted slumber.

But can I be honest without being hated too much by mothers of babies who don't sleep through the night until they're twelve? I was mostly sad.

Sure, the first night was great, waking up well-rested and refreshed. But then I started to realize those precious early morning hours in the dark were ours. They were just for my Niah and me - tender moments one-on-one with my youngest daughter. Quiet minutes for me to catch up on my reading and treasure uninterrupted snuggle time with my sweetie.

In fact, every moment with this little girl seems entirely too precious to allow it to slip away.

I recall with my first, I enjoyed the newness of a little baby in my arms, but I still struggled with giving up "me" - I still wanted to do and be all the things I was before I was a mommy and I wasn't sure how to reconcile that with the new little one before me. And so I treasured the new milestones and embraced her sweetness, but I also let too many moments pass, wondering when I would be able to get back to "me."

With my second child, I was, again, adjusting. I didn't know how to care for one child who was very active while savoring time with this new little guy. It seemed if he didn't NEED to be in my arms, eating, he wasn't - I was just too busy trying to keep everything else in order.

My third child brought a little more awareness with him. I began to recognize, as I watched the first two blossom right under my nose, saying good-bye to those fleeting baby moments comes much too quickly. Now is the time to cling to what will soon be gone.

And my fourth has brought an entirely new perspective.

For a long time it felt this baby train might never end. And, as we're leaving things to God, it could be we're still in the middle of these baby bearing years. But the truth is, one of these babies will be our last. And in leaving the decision to God, I have no idea which one it will be. I don't know when the last moment of suckling a precious girl in the wee hours of the morning will come. I don't know if this is the last of my own little ones that will curl her tiny fingers around mine or spread unbelievably adorable gassy (or just plain happy) smiles across her face.

And even if she is not my last little one born of this womb, there is also the ever-present reality, made all the more distinct in light of the passing of a beautiful little family member much too young, only weeks before we welcomed this one in our arms, that I don't know when my last moment with her, or any of these cherished members of my family will come.

And so I hold her a little longer. I rejoice just a bit when I hear her cries, once again, resounding much earlier than I'd planned to rise, looking forward to her sleepy eyes drooping in the dark. I take in the tiny swirl of hair on her crown, the precious snores of her slumbering next to me as I type, those chubby rolls and that little outie of a button that swirls in just the most perfect way - a reminder of our attachment that will never end.

I grieve laying her down to move on to other tasks and watching her grow out of clothes she just began wearing. I cry just a little to think of the day she won't be sleeping peacefully on my chest, tiny arms wrapped tight.

But mostly I embrace her, counting every moment as a treasured gift.

(And take a ton of these - vain attempts to hold on to just a fraction of these sweet, yet fleeting, times)

24 April 2014

Of Life in the Brokenness

Last summer, as I made my first visit to the midwives to plan for the birth of our baby girl, I passed by, for the first time, the unmistakable, glaring signs of destruction left behind by a string of deadly tornadoes which had ravaged our state only a couple months before.

I was surprised that after two months it looked like the winds had ripped through just yesterday. A distinct path of trees, gnarled and stripped bare, remained, along with homes and buildings barely boarded up. Would it ever be the same? What would become of these trees devastated by destruction? How long would they lay broken and barren before they were cut down from despair?

Yet, as I returned home from my final midwife visit - the six-week, post-partum check-up for little one and myself - I noticed something remarkable.

These same trees, twisted and broken for months, never changing, a constant reminder of what had been, were blooming with new buds. Broken limbs sprouted green leaves. The areas which once seemed to be irreparably damaged were now, still bent and torn, showing signs of new life.

I found it amazingly appropriate that this would be the sight I would see on this, the anniversary of the death of a precious friend.

One year ago, we mourned, we wept, we cried out. Would it ever be the same? What would become of this mess left behind?

And, no, it's not the same. Life has continued, but brokenness remains. Yet, from those twisted ruins, new life has come forth. There are buds of hope springing forth from the devastation left behind.

Our God remains faithful and there will always be beauty from these ashes. But beauty and brokenness can, and often do, co-exist. I thank Him for the constant reminders of His hand at work through all life's storms.

18 April 2014

Of Hananiah

"Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and the language of the Chaldeans. . . . Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego." - Daniel 1:3-4, 6-7

A number of years ago, back when we were a mere family of three, I studied the book of Daniel with a precious group of women through a study written by Beth Moore. While I'm sure I had learned previously that Daniel, of the lion's den, was a close friend of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, of fiery furnace fame, I believe this to be the first time it had ever occurred to me that, for some reason, while Daniel retains the usage of his Hebrew name throughout the book, his three friends must endure their fifteen minutes with the pagan, Babylonian names bestowed on them at the time of their capture. Almost no one refers to their true identities - the names given by their parents, the ones that pointed to their God in Heaven.

Shadrach had been Hananiah, meaning "God is gracious," in his previous life. Meshach was Mishael, "Who is like God?" (another form of the name we gave our first-born, Micaiah) and Abednego had been Azariah, "God is our help."

When I learned these names, I loved them all and thought about how beautiful they would be for children of this day, even. Hananiah was my favorite and it remained a strong name contender (only as a girl name, in my mind) from that time forward.
Fast forward a few years and we are finally having a second girl and now we have to name her. And our indecisive nature when it came to picking baby names shone bright and clear. The names I had once held dear I rejected. I actually pulled away from the name Hananiah for quite awhile. Though I loved the story, of standing firm through the fire, of Shadrach and his companions, I felt the name was too soft for our little girl - the one I felt, even in the womb, would be giving us a run for our money with her boldness.

And then the fires came - we watched loved ones lose their loved ones, we fought for a home to call our own, we waited, endured, for her arrival - but God was faithful through it all. And I knew, if I wanted nothing else for our precious girl, I wanted her to know who her God was and to be willing to cling to him when the world turned up the fire of opposition to all she believed. I wanted a daughter who would stand firm and - through the reminder of her name of God's good grace - push us all to stand firm, as well.

I remembered the words of Hananiah and his friends, as King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into the flames for not bowing to his idol, "[O]ur God whom we serve is able to deliver us out of your hand, O king." (Daniel 3:17) Our God is able. In ALL circumstances, He is able.

And then what followed, "But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods" (Daniel 3:18, emphasis added)

But if not.

Our God is able to deliver us from earthly suffering, but sometimes He chooses not to - and yet He is faithful, and as these men stood firm, even with the knowledge that God may choose not to deliver them from the fire, they declared their loyalty to the God of Heaven.

This is the strength I wish for all of us - the strength to trust in the goodness of our God, knowing He is able in all circumstances, and trusting that if He should choose not to deliver us from the fire, He is sovereign and His will is good. And this is the reason we chose to name our daughter for one of the many great heroes of faith.

16 March 2014

Of Our Real Homebirth

A week ago this evening, eleven days after her initial "due date," after a little prodding, I began feeling contractions (for the umpteenth time in the past couple of months). Twenty-two hours (and much, much prodding) later, another baby entered this world.

After my previous home-birth, I would often say I felt like I cheated, because it wouldn't have mattered where I had the baby - his 3.5 hour entrance into this world would not have varied too widely. Honestly, I didn't feel I'd earned any kind of special home-birther badge.

This time, I earned it. In fact, I earned a whole freakin' trophy. It should be large, the kind that gets its own pedestal.

In some ways, the tale is much less harrowing. Hour after hour of labor that started and stopped and a body that really didn't seem very interested in hurrying this baby into the world.

According to conventional wisdom, each child comes progressively quicker. Thus, after such a short delivery time for her older brother, I expected this baby to fly out. I was mentally prepared for that.

I was not mentally prepared for a marathon. Or my longest birth yet. To say I was discouraged would be an understatement. And the process of continually reminding my body it was in labor was exhausting and, to be honest, boring.

So much of me, after decrying the unnecessary tactics of the hospital's over-use of the drug pitocin to hurry along labor, wanted nothing more than to head on out, lay down in an uncomfortable bed and let them hook me up to the machine. Let the drugs tell my body what to do so I didn't have to.

Then, of course, hook me up to the drugs that make it so I can't feel the other drugs bossing my body around.

Yep, I wanted it all.

Not that I was in an intense amount of pain. I was, really, just bored. And just wanted to sleep.

No, the pain didn't come until later.

That would have been the final two hours.

Those final two hours when my labor took a turn for the immortalized births of film legend, the ones with the crazy pregnant lady (a role I've never before taken on), screaming at those around me about my inability to do this and just someone get this baby out of me - yelling talking back to my ever-patient midwife that I did not WANT to send the energy down to my baby. I did not WANT her to check me and I did not WANT whatever suggestions she had to offer.

All I WANTED was to push the baby out. Because that would make it all stop.

But then there was that cervix. The one that didn't want to get out of the way so the baby would come. The one that made the pushing that much more excruciating because it required outside intervention. The problems I've never had before. All I've ever had before was the urge to push, a few contractions of shoving and a baby in my arms.

This was NOT the birth I had imagined.

Not in the least.

And all I wanted, after decrying the unnecessary C-sections the hospital dishes out, was for someone to just cut me open and pull this baby out. Anything so I didn't have to do it anymore.

Meanwhile, throug it all, there was my husband. My wonderfully patient husband who stayed by my side for 22 hours. Sleeping while I slept, holding my hand while I contracted, rubbing my back as I moaned in discomfort, swaying with me as I contracted, reassuring me of the strength God had given me, crying while I cried out in pain. He was surprised and fearful, only for me, when I turned into evil, pregnant lady, screaming at all those around me, but never did he shy away or take it personally (and I never did claim to hate him or blame him for any of it, so there's that redeeming factor for my crazy stage).

And even though his rightful role, the one he'd been anticipating long before the process was even in full swing, was of being the one to catch our precious new baby in his arms as she entered the world, he gave it up without questioning when I would not allow him to leave my side or let go of my hand. He did what he needed, what I needed, whatever that was.

I am immensely proud of him.

And, thankfully, in the end, we got our trophy. Our preciously squishy bundle of snuggles that has been placed on her proverbial pedestal by all those around her.

And while the tale of her arrival may be much less exciting and much more filled with pain, impatience and unpleasant memories, the ending remains the same - worth every bit of it all.