Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Learning to Love and Live Through Loss: The Story of Our Third Baby

"Oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.  No other fount I know... nothing but the blood of Jesus"... I sang this past Sunday standing next to my husband and two children... thinking about the theme of that day's worship set at church - each song being about Christ's blood making me clean, making me whole... It was all very emotional for me, perhaps in a way I'll never be able to describe.  The timing of these songs at first seemed like a dark joke.  Like cruel irony.  But the longer I sang and the more I thought about it, my heart was warmed with the thought of God leading the worship pastor to choose these songs... they couldn't have been more timely.

I leaned over to my husband and whispered in his ear, "The songs are all about blood."  My husband's face told me that he had noticed too... and that he knew why it meant so much.

2 weeks earlier we had been debating on whether there was a second pink line.  My cycle was pretty late, and I just knew I was pregnant.  I had been saying for a week that I thought I was pregnant.  And I saw a second line on that test.  But I wasn't sure if I actually saw it, or if I just knew where it was supposed to be...  and really wanted it to be there.  Kyle said he didn't see it.  So I sent a picture to my midwife, and she said she saw it!  I went in for a blood test to confirm, and I was right!  My midwife sent me a picture of the lab results - a positive pregnancy test!  I couldn't wait to tell Kyle, so I sent him the picture too.  We were both so excited to be having a third baby!  We spent the rest of the afternoon discussing  what the baby's nickname was going to be... who we should tell first... and when.

We had told our parents in unique ways before with our first 2 children, and it just so happened that both our parents were going to be having dinner together at a pregnancy center's fundraiser that evening!  So I sent my husband's mom a text with the lab results picture saying "Can you please show this to my mom?"  And Kyle sent the same thing to my mom's phone.  When they both were finally in the same place and actually looked at the picture, we all Facetimed and laughed about how clever we thought we had been and about the new grandbaby!

We had already made plans to spend that weekend at my in-laws' ranch, and we had invited some friends and their kids to come spend the weekend there as well.  So when my husband got off work on the day after we had announced the pregnancy to our parents, we headed for the ranch.  Earlier that day, I had noticed that all the usual smells at the school where I teach part-time were all stronger and did not mix well.  Bleh!  I noticed that I could even smell the hand soap before I pumped it into my hand in the bathroom.  Later on that afternoon, I had gotten a little carried away (when don't I, huh?) and dressed my kids up for taking a picture for the announcement.  I didn't tell them why we were dressing up, I only said it was for a surprise later that day.  The picture was so cute, and I just couldn't wait to design the announcement, so I spent the hour drive in the car deciding on the layout to announce baby #3.  We decided that we were going to tell our kids right before our friends arrived at the ranch, so that they would still be super excited and blurt it out to our friends upon their arrival.  I envisioned this big happy exchange of hugs and smiles all around, and I was so happy with anticipation!

When we arrived at the ranch, we did the usual hugs and unloading of the car.  I told Kyle that I had to pee, so I ran inside the house to use the restroom.  And as I am still bubbly with excitement, I started to bleed.  I was so caught off-guard.  I had not had any bleeding with my first two pregnancies at all, and I immediately realized the worst-case scenario was probably playing out.  I texted Kyle to come to the bathroom.  I told him.  And I took the wind right out of his sails.  I love that husband of mine.  He gets excited about things he should, and he becomes sad about things he should.  I know from speaking to other women that this is a blessing, maybe a rare one.

In that moment I felt and thought a million different things:
-'I am so glad I didn't tell my daughter.'
-'I am so embarrassed.  I shouldn't have been so excited.'
-'Maybe this isn't what I think it is... what else could it be?!'
-'Of course this would happen when I am at someone else's house.  Without pads.  And all I packed were thong underwear.'
-'I am gonna have to sit here and cry while my husband goes to the dollar store and buys me pads and underwear.'
-'Maybe since the blood is really bright red, maybe that doesn't mean it is a miscarriage... maybe it is something else that is minor...'

So I spent a lot of the weekend in the bathroom or sitting on the heating pad.  I had all the wrong symptoms for a weekend in the country with guests, but they were all the right ones for a miscarriage.  Back pain, clotting, nausea...

I had a few good cries.  I texted my mom, my sister, my midwife, and 2 other friends.  They sent the usual responses one would expect - hopeful, prayerful, and loving words for my heart.  I also tried to be a good hostess to our friends and walked around the ranch with them, watching our kids play together.  It was pretty windy and chilly, but during the times I wasn't in the bathroom, I was so glad to be outside in the fresh air with people I love.

But I also spent a lot of time on the internet researching miscarriage.  I had never had to read on it before, and my sister always told me to "never read the bad news until you have to".  That is when I learned that my guess about bright blood had been very wrong... apparently, it is the darker the better.  I learned that there are several different reasons why a woman might bleed during pregnancy, and not all led to miscarriage.  Many of the miscarriage symptoms were also common pregnancy symptoms, so while this depressed me more, I was also more hopeful...

Now how I could have been both at the same time is difficult to explain and believe... but it is a reality that before I didn't know existed.

After 24 hours, we got more nervous that this might not be just implantation bleeding.  Kyle told me he wanted me to take it easy, and we went home.  He did laundry, got dinner, did the dishes, put the kids to bed... and I was thankful for the time to rest in my favorite lounge pants on the heating pad (on the lowest setting).

I texted our pastors telling them that we thought I was miscarrying and that I wouldn't be coming in to church.  They were very kind, told me to rest and that they were praying for me... and they told Kyle to stay home with me.  Our pastor took over Kyle's Sunday School class, and Kyle ran in early to the church for half an hour to finish the set up I normally do each week.

We sat around in our pjs doing nothing much, and it was so sweet.  The past 2 months had been so stressful for me and Kyle during his recruiting season, and I had missed so much spending quality time with him and my kids... as a family.  I was sad, yes, that I probably wasn't pregnant anymore, but I was also overwhelmed by the love I have for these people and how much I had missed them.  That seems like a weird thing to say about people you live with... but it is very possible to sleep and eat in the same structural space while not feeling connected to them in a meaningful way... to miss them just as much as if they were on the other side of the country.

I became more hopeful as my mom replied, "It is fairly common for women to bleed during pregnancy."  Or listening to a friend's story about bleeding off and on for 6 weeks at the beginning of her pregnancy, and she gave birth to a healthy boy, whom my kids now adore.  A friend contacted me and congratulated me saying my dad had told her the good news... and I asked her for prayer and explained what was happening.  She responded that she had had a miscarriage between her two first kids... she now has 5.  A woman I work with asked me how I was doing, and I asked her for prayer and explained what was going on... she told me she had had a miscarriage before each of her daughters... she now has 3 kids.

During my miscarriage, I learned how common it is to miscarry a pregnancy.  I did not know that 20% of HEALTHY women miscarry.  I did not know that almost every person I explained my situation to had also miscarried.  I didn't know that all these secretly lost pregnancies were all around me in my circle of friends.  I was saddened by learning about them.  I was frustrated by the ignorance of these facts.  I was encouraged that I was not alone, and that I am not a broken freak.

I was also challenged in a new way in my thinking toward our loving and good Heavenly Father.  During this time, I found out another friend is expecting.  She was not wanting to have more children, or at least not for a long while.  She has been struggling, stressing, and anxious over the future.  Over the worry about what it means for her family.  And here I sat at home losing a pregnancy I had planned and hoped for.  It is only natural to notice the irony... to ask God what He is trying to teach me.  To have to pray to check my heart - to ask God to protect me from bitterness, jealousy.  And He has been so gracious to allow me to be truly, sincerely happy for her and the many other women I know that are growing little beauties in their tummies as I type this.  He has shown me that He has lessons for them to learn as well.  And He has been so, so good to me.  And I have felt it every second throughout this loss.

So while my time miscarrying was sorrowful, it was also refreshing... and by Fall Break time, the bleeding had stopped.  I knew my hormones and levels would still be out-of-whack, so I was determined not to let the waiting and not knowing for sure ruin the time we all had off together.

We had the greatest Fall Break, and I think it was even sweeter because of our loss.  We went to the zoo.  We slept in.  We stayed up late.  We hung out with the college students.  We let our kids have a sleepover in each other's rooms, which I am usually very strict about saying NO.  We had a picnic in our backyard.  Kyle went hunting, but only in the mornings and met up with us at the pumpkin patch.  I took fewer photos than usual, and I took it all in a lot more.  I smiled a lot.  Yes, I would get teary-eyed too.  I just felt like something so unfortunate had happened at a time in my life when I needed a new perspective, a breath of fresh air to my soul.

I began to cry in bed that Saturday night, and Kyle held me.  I explained that I wasn't necessarily sad, but I was feeling so much at the same time.  I said, "While I am sad, I am also so incredibly warmed to know that life goes on, and everything in it is a little sweeter."

The next morning we sang all about how Jesus' blood gives us hope, the only hope.  I smiled and teared up at the contrast between what sadness the blood in the world can bring... injury, death, loss... but what great news that through blood, just as human in design as mine, yet given from the body of the God-Man's sinless existence... it makes all things new again.  And that is exactly how I had felt about my time spent with family during and after my miscarriage... like my love for them and my enjoyment of them was all made new again.

And with newness of living comes newness of thinking.  I have begun the process of preaching to myself the truths which do not come naturally to our sinful souls.  I am preaching these truths, with more to come, I am sure:

-There is absolutely no reason why I should have felt embarrassed about being excited about a pregnancy I only had a hunch about for over a week and knew about for sure for a day.  Each life is a life worth being excited about, and if the whole world sees me celebrate one day only to have to mourn the next, embarrassment has nothing to do with it.  There is no shame in wanting to share in excitement.  There is no shame in keeping it a secret until later.  There is no shame in being honest about what is going on in our lives, especially when it stinks!  I am thankful that I shared what was going on with me, because I found much comfort in hearing others' experiences and knowing I wasn't alone.  THERE IS NO SHAME IN LOSS THAT IS OUT OF OUR CONTROL.

-And it is out of my control.  That is a gift.  I don't want things to be in my control, because I know how often I mess so much up!  No, I want God to be in control... of even the things in my life that may cause me pain.  He weaves the most beautiful truths into the stitching up of our deepest wounds... and they are truths we remember forever.  We so often forget the lessons we are taught in the shiny, sparkly times.  I believe it is our fallen, sinful nature that requires us to be broken in order to be made right... to have to first look less like us in order to look more like Him.

-And since it is out of my control, then there is no guilt for what occurred... all that I am responsible for is how I avail my broken self to the ultimate Fixer.  Not so that I can have my way now or later, but so that I can honor God's purpose in all this by paying attention to the purpose in all this!

"Oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow!  NO OTHER FOUNT I KNOW!  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"

Friday, September 23, 2016

When My Spying Ears Encouraged My Exhausted Heart

Today I am tired.  Like tired to my bones, need to prop my feet up, lay on the heating pad, bought my kids McDonald's and let them watch tv all evening kind of tired.  Today I packed lunches and dropped 4 kids off at school, dropped 9 boxes and 2 grocery sacks full of items at our church garage sale, taught 1st grade, fed 4 kids lunch, tried to put 3 toddlers down for a nap that apparently none of them wanted to take.  Priced items at the yard sale, changed 5 diapers, searched for more diapers because all 3 of them ran out, folded up and put away 3 pack-n-plays, cleaned poopy underwear, dealt with my daughter's dramatic meltdown about how sweaty she was while she waited for me to finish all my work so we could go home... (I love how a sweaty 4-year-old can't see the sweat dripping down her mom's face while she is looking right at her)... and I'm just tired. worn out.  exhausted.

One busy day is bearable.  Two, three... but busyness seems my constant state lately.  And it is mostly because 99% of the time I am surrounded by small children.  Usually 3 or 4 children, but always at least my own 2.  And I am usually on my own with them.  On Sundays you may see me with 16 toddlers.  Monday-Friday, again, I am with 1st graders or at recess duty with Kindergartners through 3rd graders.  And when I leave them, my own are once again with me until I make them lay down at night.  Always noise.  And mess.  And fighting.  And being selfish.  And hopefully hearing the Gospel I am trying to give them in my teaching them... Please?

I see adults in passing.  I have meaningful conversations with them even less.  Sometimes I fear I have forgotten how to have an adult conversation... like what do you say to someone who brushes their own teeth and doesn't need you to wipe their bottom?!  Sometimes I feel very much at a loss.  Like I am struggling to find a time to go get even a haircut... and I'm not sure what topics I am even qualified to discuss with the adult stylist once I actually get an appointment and go!

I am a busy woman.  I am so busy that I don't really ever have time to think about it.  I am also married to a busy man.  And we live in a busy world.  Between the two of us, we have 5 jobs, 4 of them being part-time of course (because we only have the same 24 hours everyone else does), and all the while we are parenting small children... very stubborn, spirited small children.  Fortunately, they get it from us, and most of the time we are stubborn and spirited enough to manage.  But right now is my husband's busiest time of year with his full-time job, and while we truly do bear one another's burdens emotionally... many times he just isn't available to help me physically carry the load I am to carry.  He says he married because I am strong.  And a lot of the time, I guess this strength he says I have allows me to get a lot done and mostly enjoy it all - all the moving, teaching, redirecting, reminding, disciplining, forgiving, explaining... most of the time I love being surrounded by these little people who are ignorant of how ugly the world can be... these little persons whose biggest problems are that their pb&j isn't cut the right way!  But by the end of the work day today, my strength was gone... burned up... blown in the wind.

And I was thinking about this today as I reflected on what the past weeks of my hubby's busy season has been like for me.  I don't blame him; this job that keeps him so busy and gone from home often is what feeds, clothes, and shelters me and my children.  I am thankful for his work, and for mine.  But today I was really thinking as I priced books at the yard sale... All I really want is to sit for hours and read.  I want quiet.  I want solitude.  I want to be left alone.  I don't want to be touched.  I don't want to buckle car seats.  I don't want to wipe butts, tie shoes, wipe snotty noses, explain once again why we don't hit our sibling, or tell a sobbing 4-year-old to take deep breaths and calm down while I cut the itchy tag out of her shirt.  And it isn't like wanting a billion dollars that no one you know personally has either, so you don't get so upset knowing it won't happen... instead there are people all around me who get to pee by themselves or go for a walk to clear their head... I mean, I could go for a walk, but answering 4,000 questions about why that dog only has 3 legs and why we can't hate mean people will only make more of a muddle!

I am so tired lately, that even the idea of spending time with my friends sounds like too much work.  And I am a very social person!  I am just so tired!

And when we are tired, our guards are down.  I know mine goes down quickly when I am running on fumes!  I start to get jealous of people who breezily mention they read a book, grew a garden (which I wouldn't want to do anyway), took an interesting class, shopped in a store for something other than groceries... many of the people I hear say these things are my friends who are just older enough than me to have grown kids... like they aren't old enough to be my parents, but definitely like an older sister-type... and sometimes I find myself wishing our lives away to get there to their status.  To have time to be a woman with interests and friends and brunches/lunches/coffees/day trips... I honestly don't have any hobbies anymore, unless you count having Netflix on in the background or occasionally reading the assigned book for my book club (which I haven't even started the one we are supposed to be reading now... I haven't even ordered it... I really haven't thought about it much either).

But tonight as I walked out of the yard sale that we were prepping, across the parking lot I barely overheard a conversation between 2 older moms.  Both have older-to-grown kids.  Both of them are dealing with having to watch their older kids make major life-decisions... and they are both worried as they watch their kids make the wrong choices.  At first I only thought of them, for them... I prayed a prayer of thanks to God that they can run into someone else who is going through something similar.  Then I thought about them in comparison with my struggle.  I started to think about how difficult it would be to watch your older kids - people you have literally poured most of your life's hours into leading, guiding, teaching - go against what you taught them, watch them believe lies, choose negative influences in their lives, permanently tie themselves to these negative influences, and sometimes even cut you completely off from their lives.  I'm sure it happens more than I know.

And I realized that this parenting job doesn't end.  Sure, it changes... morphs... appears different.  These ladies I saw conversing in the parking lot have more time on their hands now to pursue their interests and just to live life at a more enjoyable pace... plenty of time to stop in the middle of a parking lot and have a deep discussion without worrying about a short person getting hit by a car... but they are still mamas.  You could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices.  I didn't listen to much of the conversation, but just the few small pieces I overheard, put together with what I know their families are struggling through right now... they still worry.  They still wish they could fix it all, and they can't.  They still wish they could smack some wisdom into their child's heart and mind so they may spare them of having to learn it all the hard way.

And then I looked down at my littles.  These 2 cuties that God has entrusted to me for this time... and I realized that it will always be a trade off.  Now, my time and energy is strapped.  Later it will also be my money.  After that, I'll get my time back, but I'll be older... and my interests may change by then.  And these little people will live elsewhere... maybe across town, maybe across the ocean.  And I will have to watch from the sidelines, whatever glimpses they allow me to have, every life-decision they make for themselves.  I won't be tying their shoes or packing their lunches or yelling at them to stop yelling in the car (yep, I have done that... several times)... but I'll still have to be trusting God with them every step of the way.

So today I am just too tired.  I won't always feel like this.  I'll probably wake up tomorrow ready to go 90 mph again, probably chasing them! But it is now that I have to learn contentment.  It is now I must rely upon the Lord for the strength I need.  Because in the blink of an eye, I'll wake up one day... and I'll have way more time to worry and mull over what only He has control over, anyway.  I won't always be so busy.  I won't always have to make so many in-the-moment decisions that affect other people.  But I will always have something that is bigger than me, and I will always be a flawed human whose reach doesn't go half as far as I would like.

So I go to sleep tonight.  And I rest.  For I serve a big God, the only true God.  I am inadequate.  He already knew that.  I won't get it right.  He is prepared for that.  But if He allows me to wake in the morning, He promises new mercies await me there... that He has a purpose for each day He wakes me... and that He will be my adequacy for me... He will overflow my cup.

"How deep the Father's love for us.  How vast beyond all measure..."

And knowing that... gives me the sweetest rest, not just for my body, but for my soul.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 - "We Will Never Forget"... I'm Pretty Sure We Already Have

I remember where I was, what I was doing, and how the entire day went... September 11th, 2001.  I was 18 and a freshman in college.  I was getting ready for class and was heading out the door when the news came on about the first tower being hit, and being my first-born, authority-pleasing self, I went ahead and drove the few minutes to campus, even though I was still trying to sift through all the details of this freak accident in my mind - searching for more information on the radio as I drove.  I ran into my class, which was to be held in the auditorium that day with a guest speaker.  Instead of the speaker, they had the news projected onto the giant stage screen, and at first I was very confused, because as I entered and watched the replay video of the plane hitting the tower, I realized there was already smoke and flames...  And then it dawned on me what I had just seen on that large screen was a live shot of the second plane hitting the other tower, not a replay of the first.  We all just sat there watching, crying, many on their phones calling loved ones.  It was soon announced that our speaker's plane had not landed on time, and that class was cancelled.  Soon, the entire campus canceled classes and closed, later my shift at the local American Eagle was canceled because the whole mall closed, the line at the gas pump was forever long, and once I finally got back home, I sat in the living room and watched the news all day long.  I thought back to 6th grade when we learned about the Oklahoma City Bombing and watched the news all day in all our classes - how jumbled all the information had been at first - and how much what I might be hearing then on 9/11 would later be corrected.  I thought about how much I missed my parents.  I watched people covered in ashes limp out of the cloud that was New York City.  I heard speeches, watched Congress sing "God Bless America" together on the Capitol steps, and the President ended the day by promising we would bring the terrorists to justice.

It seemed for such a long time, I'm not sure how long, American flags were EVERYWHERE! On government buildings, stores, cars... People held each other and prayed.  Opposing sides wept and worked together.  Persons of different religions, races, cultures, etc. stood together to honor those that had fallen because they worked in the targeted places, and those who also lost their lives because they entered those areas to do their greatest work.  We said we would never forget... we literally wrote it on the sides of buildings and hung great banners with our promise.

And then we forgot anyway.

After a long while, people took the flags down, and they remembered their arguments and picked their hatred, prejudices, lies, and manipulation back up.  We went back to looking out for ourselves instead of others.  We forgot that we once rose from the ashes as a nation to be leaders in victory against evil...

I mean, sure, we remember the date and the facts and what took place... but look at the current events in our nation, and you easily see that we have forgotten.  It is staggering to me how different things are since 15 years ago!  Less community, more division.  And especially in this election year, I fear we now make so many decisions, and make stances built upon fear and selfishness.  And it has all been magnified and exponentially bred over the years by the abuse of social media to argue and attack one another.  We now value our own opinions more than we do someone else's life... which, if we think about it, is how 9/11 happened in the first place.

Why was it so easy to come together on this day 15 years ago?  Perhaps because at that time, we saw that everyone is going through a struggle.  That every life is precious.  That it is a grave mistake to value your beliefs over others' lives.  Sure, most of us wouldn't kill other people we disagree with today, but how often do we spew hate with our words, spoken or typed?

I have seen "We will never forget" all over my newsfeed today... but it is a lie, America.  You have forgotten.  With racism, riots, lies, manipulating facts, feeding upon people's fears, not standing up for the right, not calling out wrongs, and pretending to be the same country that once had a strong backbone and a loving heart.

You might remember being sad.  You may remember that people were killed.  That others sacrificed.  You might remember that security became tighter.  But "We will never forget" wasn't about remembering facts and past feelings!  It was a message, a lesson, that apparently we missed.

"We will never forget" should have meant that we finally learned our lesson about putting our differences aside.  We should have learned that decisions should be made based on love AND logic, not only one side, and definitely not out of fear and victimization.

I can't help but feel angry at the stark contrast between the country I lived in as an 18-year-old and the one I live in now.  People are so easily offended, take sides so quickly.  We surround ourselves with only opinions that sound like our own.  And we throw grace out the window once we are approached by someone with a differing view.  Perhaps it seems worse even more this year because it is an election year, one that scares me tremendously.  I am a strong conservative, but people on all sides scare me with their tactics, and their supporters' angry arguing tempts me to despair.

I guess I am also tempted to become overwhelmed with defeat because it is now 15 years away from the tragedy.  And if we didn't really learn these lessons then, how could we learn them now?  And so many major tragedies have happened since, but our responses aren't the same.  These mass shootings and bombings around the world have only divided us more.  Do we have to experience greater mass disaster to truly care about one another?  Can we only be great when circumstances are at their worst?

I am only one person, and I am only raising a few children.  I cannot control what others say and do, and let's face it, I can't control what the people living in my home say or do.  I probably will not change the world, and maybe not even the minds of the people who read this.  But I am determined that in our home and lives that "We will never forget" will not be an empty promise spoken by selfish hearts just to feel better about themselves.  I am determined that in our realm of influence it will mean these important things:

1)  All life is precious.  I do not care if you and I agree.  I don't care if you annoy the crap out of me.  I don't care if you are of a different race, religion, lifestyle, age, gender, or political affiliation - you are made in the image of God, and I see your life as precious.

2)  We live in a community of souls.  And each soul has struggles.  I will not see my struggle as more important than yours.  I will try to make yours mine as well.  I will try to help you get through it.  Not because I am stronger than anyone else, because I'm not... quite the opposite!  I should want to help you bear your burden because I am another soul with another struggle.  That should develop compassion in my heart for yours, and hopefully yours for mine.  What good comes from being in the trenches together, trying to prove to others that our part of the trench is deeper?!  What do we win if we prove we have the hardest struggle?  I feel like so many are trying to make everyone else aware that their struggle is more difficult than others'.  I know I must do better at living intentionally for community and remembering others' struggles.  I need to remember that life is more fulfilling when poured out for others.

3)  I will be thankful.  For life.  For freedom.  For those who paved the way for me to have both of those.  If any one of those who died could see how we take life and freedom for granted, I can't imagine how it would feel like a stab to their heart.  How dare we live life in America like we don't owe our thanks to someone else for it!

4)  I will fight temptation to lose hope.  I have hope for many things and people.  I hope our country repents and turns to God.  I hope the oppressed are met with compassion and help.  I hope we would all want to contribute to society with the abilities and resources we have been blessed with, not if the government requires us to, but out of gratitude to be alive in this great country.  I hope those with more would give to those with less, out of gratitude for having so much.  I hope those with less would find comfort in the Lord and His people... which means I wish the Church would WAKE UP and DO THE JOB Christ set before us!  I hope that wrongs would be made right.  I hope that we would forgive and graciously let go of all hatred and bigotry.  I hope that people would truly want power to change things for good, instead of just being able to call the shots.

5)  I will remember the Greatest Sacrifice, and that didn't happen only 15 years ago.  While I will remember and honor those fallen on 9/11 and allow the lessons to wash over me and change me... there is a Greater Death and Life found in Christ, Himself!  Those of us who trust in this great God should never be dismayed.  For He humbled Himself to experience our struggles and limited His own power to understand our hardships, and He did it all without selfishness or sin... and when the right time came, He gave Himself up to give you and I the greatest hope there is.  If and when none of my hopes come to fruition, I still hope, because of Christ's sacrifice and example and the Word of God, I can continue to hope for eternal things and not despair at the corruption of governments made by man.

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So while I weep at the memories of 9/11, I should not allow the sadness to overcome me.  And while I remember the tragedy, I should also remember the strength and compassion displayed in the midst of it.  How truly tragic it is, if 9/11 becomes merely a sad day with a cool video in memory of a lot of people who died.  "We will not forget" should mean "this has changed us and drives us forward, together".

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

To the Bridesmaid Farthest From Me

We have all been, or known, someone who was the bridesmaid standing the farthest away from the bride during the entire wedding - first person to walk in, last to walk out... and probably sees nothing but the back of a veil the entire wedding ceremony... we all know that usually the physical distance away from the bride on stage has a direct correlation to the closeness of the friendship between the bride and that bridesmaid.  I'm not sure anyone ever has come right out and said that before, but let's face it... it is usually the absolute truth.

In my wedding the same was true, but perhaps even more so because I had followed some advice from a mentor that I now see as incredible truth and accountability for my marriage... not just my wedding!  This mentor encouraged Kyle and I to not do the usual and choose friends from our past, but to choose friends for our future, to be in the wedding party.  He said for us to have people on that stage who understood they were there to help keep us accountable to the vows we were making to each other.  These needed to be people who would be living life alongside us, not just people we had fond memories of.

In most weddings, you see old friends flying in from wherever else because she and the bride were best friends in elementary school or cheer camp, etc.  I really only followed our mentor's advice, at first, because it helped me solve a major problem.  I grew up in a close-knit group of about 7-9 girls that were very close... and I had been in most of their weddings!  I felt like I should repay the favor, but I did not know how I was going to choose my sister, plus my current best friend, and then somehow ask all or just a few of those 7-9 girls... without hurting feelings, going financially broke paying for their dresses, and not clutter the stage during the wedding.

So, Kyle and I picked a number based on the number of people attending the wedding (1 bridesmaid and 1 groomsmen per 75 people attending the wedding, I think the usual is per 50 attenders).  Then we had to decide who those 4 people on stage for each of us were going to be.  I chose not to ask anyone with kids, because being a bridesmaid is a lot of work.  Showers to throw, bachelorette to plan, the day of getting ready and pictures... that would be a lot for a mom to sacrifice the time, money, and energy toward.  The first 3 were very easy to choose - my sister, my current best friend, and my aunt (who was more like a sister).  But with only one more spot left to fill, I thought about our mentor's advice... and I picked my friend, Cassy.  Granted, we hadn't known each other very long, but we had gotten to know each other more and more ever since I had started dating Kyle.  See, Cassy is married to Kyle's best friend, Matt.  The more I got to know her, the more I really liked how honest, down to earth, and fun she was.  And since her husband was my husband-to-be's best friend, I figured she would be the perfect person to fill that role, who would be in my life, and perhaps would call me out if I wasn't being the wife I promised to be.

It is funny how as life changes, we do too.  We don't mean to, we just constantly adjust to make room for the things that come along and say goodbye to things, and people, that just don't fit anymore.  And then for the same life changes, others come into your life and encourage you in ways you had never planned.  I figured we would be spending quite a bit of time with Matt and Cassy, and we sometimes did when they lived in the same town as us... but I find that we have made more of an effort to see them much more since they moved away than we ever did when they were 5 minutes away!  I think it was one of those "you don't know what you have until it is gone" kind of things.

It is funny that as they have moved to Texas and then Tulsa... my friendship with Cassy has grown in a way that I never would have guessed.  It seems like we got closer after they moved away, even though our lives got busier too.  Usually distance and busyness would ruin friendships that weren't that strong to begin with, but perhaps it was the milestones of our lives that brought us closer as friends.  We had kids!  And we drove down to Dallas as soon as we could to see them when Cassy had their first daughter.  Then Cassy drove up to see us and take our daughter's newborn photos less than 2 weeks after she was born!  We made it just in time to the hospital with their second daughter as they were packing up to go home... so we just went to their house and hung out for the rest of the day!  And they didn't care!  Most people would need quiet and wouldn't want visitors - we knew they loved us when they opened their home to their newly-born daughter and us on the same day!  Then they came and brought their girls to see our son when he was born... and we have been to every birthday party in between, and we usually spend New Years Eve hanging out with them!
Back when I wasn't even dating Kyle yet... I think this was at a wedding I crashed and hung out with her, Matt, and Kyle the rest of the day!
The guys trying to figure out the nose-sucker on Matt and Cassy's first baby!

My daughter pulled up to a standing position for the first time at Matt and Cassy's house!

Our friends came from Tulsa to see our son when he was born!

I was thinking through this a couple of weekends ago when Matt and Cassy and their girls came to spend the weekend here in Tahlequah.  She was going to shoot my family's photos AGAIN, and none of us were okay with the idea of them just coming to town for a few hours.  So it was our turn to host the usual fun weekends we have with them - we watch our kids play together, eat good food, and then "visit" - ya know what old people call sitting around and talking.  We often joke about how we thought our parents were so boring for just wanting to sit and talk with their friends when we were growing up... but here we are doing the exact same thing!

It is odd how when some people become married or parents, your friendships just aren't the same with them anymore.  Maybe because they are consumed with their new relationship, jobs, new friends, or perhaps your philosophies for parenting or other major life happenings are too different to reconcile.  I feel like Matt and Cassy have become our closest "couple friends", not because of how often we see them or because they live nearby.  We actually don't see each other that often, but when we go see them, I already know we are going to 1) stay up late, so late that we hate ourselves the next morning, 2) talk and laugh the whole time 3) usually about religion and politics!  And we even disagree on issues at times, but I never find myself bored, and we never actually get angry or argue!  We have disagreed on some pretty hot topics that have people all-caps shouting and cursing at each other on the internet... and yet, I couldn't respect Matt and Cassy more, even though we may not agree and have even had some debates.  They are real people who are trying to follow Christ and raise a family the best they can... and they are really having to think through and be intentional to do it right.  We understand the same struggles to strive for a goal, depend on Christ's grace and mercy through it all, and somehow fight for balance.

We may disagree or react differently to a few things, but for the most part we share the same core values.  We are followers of Christ and try to live by His Word.  We share beliefs that affect how we parent, entertain, spend money, and how we spend our time.  It is amazing to know that when we are hanging out with them, I know they are not judging us or questioning certain things we say and do, because they probably do something similar.  And it isn't just the sameness that is encouraging, but there are things they do as a couple and family that we admire and are inspired to do better in, because we see their example.  It is amazing to know that when we spend time with them, even if our kids are running around like crazy, I can truly relax!  Cassy doesn't care what we drove there in, what I am wearing, that my kids are loud, or that I have chosen to send my daughter to the local public school instead of homeschooling.  She isn't going to wince that I have Cheetos in my cabinets, even though she would never feed those to her kids, if given the choice.

As we were laughing and talking about the thrilling topics of government, church community groups, church planting, etc... the time flew by, and I was so thankful that God brought them into our lives!  I sat there engaged in conversation with heavy, tired eyes, but my spirit was very alive.  'How rare and blessed to find friends such as these' is all I could think to myself.  And I hope I never take that for granted.  So many times women can't stand their husbands' friends, and especially not their wives... I am grateful that in many cases, my hubby's friends and their wives have become mine as well... and especially with Matt and Cassy.

So even though she was the furthest (yes, I switched it on purpose) away from me at my wedding, and I was probably closer to several other friends who were sitting out in the audience at that time... I can honestly say that she is now one of my dearest friends.  I respect her not only as my friend, but she is a great wife, mother, and follower of Christ!  I have been challenged, encouraged, and comforted having her for a friend.  And as a professional photographer, I am thankful that even though she isn't IN any of the photos that hang in my home... I can look around my living room, hallways, and the bedrooms of our home, and she really is in all of these pictures of the people I love the most, because she captured them so I could treasure them always!

I promise, I had already started this blog topic, Cassy, before today.  But I thought what better day to publish it than on your birthday!  Ya know, it was only a few weeks ago that I realized we are both August babies who married January-born men... weird!  Thanks for being my friend, for giving me a hard time about having to be invited before I go somewhere, and for being you!

Happy birthday!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Questions for 4 Months, Answers Tomorrow

Hello, dear reader.  Please forgive me for my silence.  I have had a fun summer, activities-wise, but I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what God's plan is for me and my family... not my plan (which, let me tell you was a pretty good one), but HIS!

In my last blog post, I spelled out some plans my husband and I made at the beginning of 2016 with the next several years in mind.  Toward the end of that post, I wrote this:

But we... agree that our plans are just that - plans.  Tentative plans.  Plans made by human minds with finite understanding of the big picture that God is weaving together.  With school budgets the way they are currently, I may not find a teaching job at all.  And if that is the case, God will give us children in His timing, and He will continue to provide for bills He has given us - just as He has time and time again in the past.  There have been times in the past that money was just handed to us for no reason, sometimes by secret-givers.  There have been times when extra jobs became available, and we were able to earn some money for a special need.  There are other ways of paying for adoptions... there are other types of adoption that cost a lot less or practically nothing at all too.  The point is, God is still God.  This world is still His creation.  I am a steward, not an owner.  I am the servant, not the Master.  I only control my obedience, not the journey or outcome of any of this...And we keep reminding each other months later that however it works out, we are open.  We have a plan held out in flat hands for God to shape into mirror-images of His plans... or to make it easier for our hearts if He snatches our plans out of grasp.  He is the Lord, and He has every right to "exercise His will over our lives".

It is very interesting how I ended that post, especially since as I wrote it, I also very much believed that we had landed on THE PLAN.  In theory, I always know that God can change my plans, but when it happens for real, it is a very confusing time for me.

In fact, I spent a lot of time saying things like this over the summer, "It seems like God is confused."  or "It seems like God is one of those bad songwriters that just makes up the song as he goes."

I am always sure to say "seems", because that is exactly what it is... I am experiencing feelings that are NOT truth.  The truth is that God has had a plan that includes major details, like the universe and governments and The Great Awakening... down to the minute details like whatever color Eve's hair was and why I have wide ankles.  He knows it all, because He put it all there, or allowed it to happen.  And if it seems He keeps changing things on me or that things don't go together, then I need to wait for HIS answers to my questions... because He doesn't change and "all things work together".

So what happened, you ask?  Well, as I described in my last post, my husband and I had made plans for me to go back to work full-time for this 2016-2017 school year.  My old job was available again, I would only have one child in childcare, and we wanted to start saving money for future kids.  So I applied, interviewed, and waited.  And waited.  They said they would call by the end of the week, but it had been 3 weeks... and they had done more interviews.  I started to naturally make a back-up plan... but that turned into questioning the whole thing.  I found myself asking God to take me back to drawing board, without any plans of my own, to see what He really wanted me to do with my time during this season of our lives...

And what I felt like God telling me was, 'Don't go back to full-time work.  Enjoy your young children.  And trust Me to provide for whatever future children I bring you."

So Kyle, my husband, and I went to breakfast alone, and I told him I didn't think I was supposed to go back to work.  We agreed just to continue as we had the previous school year.  So I let the mom that I had been babysitting for know that she could count on me this coming school year.

And the next day I got a job offer.  I politely said no.

Then another one... I politely said no.

Then another one... and I started to be very confused, feel guilty, and feel weighed down by pressure.  Had we made the wrong decision with changing our minds?  Were we right the first time?  What was God trying to show me by withholding job offers until I made a decision, and then they started pouring in???

After talking with Kyle again, I turned down that job offer too.  I actually cried while doing it, because I wanted to please everyone and do the right thing... but I felt like everything hinged on my decision.  This is very unlike me.  I usually make decisions quite easily and figure God will show me if I was wrong soon afterwards.  I bought my car after driving it once.  I purchased my first house after looking at it once.  I was offered my first teaching job right after my first interview and accepted right there in the parking lot.  I usually do not spend a lot of time or energy doubting my decisions... but now that I am older, I guess I was thinking about how my husband, my children, and possibly future children depend on my current use of wisdom.

Again, small me thinking I hold the universe together... when I struggle to get a load of laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away within 2-days' time! Ha!

Knowing Kyle supported my decision to keep turning down jobs meant the world to me.  And being reminded that God is always still in control no matter what I do helped too!

So, school started last Thursday.  We took our daughter to her first day of school.  And then my son and I headed to preschool for his first half-day in his class, and for my first half-day back to work.  The director that I assist in the 4s&5s class said, "I am sorry to tell you this, but we had 4 kids drop last week, so enrollment is down.  So, I don't know, but after this week, I'm not sure we can keep you on, at least until our numbers go back up."

I wasn't upset or panicking at all, because we had been able to pay our bills over the summer without any extra pay from me.  For me, it really is important that I get to teach a little, because I love it, get to save some money for our near-future goals, and still get to be home in the afternoons with my son and to serve my family.  So I casually thought, "I'll call my friend who is a principal of the local Christian elementary school, because I know she is having to start the school year without a full staff.  I could only offer her my mornings, but maybe she is needing whatever she can get... and it would help me out too!"

So I texted her.

She immediately called me back!  She had JUST FINISHED talking to a teacher who felt God was wanting her to take on an older grade level full-time, leaving a morning-only teaching position available.  Right after they had this discussion, she received my text about being available in the mornings.

So I had an interview that evening.  I met my students the next morning, went through the curriculum, explored a little in the classroom, and I start on Monday!

Now here are some even more incredible details that are blowing my mind - this teacher who is moving grade-levels already has the classroom set up!  She already has all of next week planned as well!  Which is great for me, because it is a FIRST GRADE CLASSROOM!  Have I ever taught 1st grade?  Not in an academic setting, that's for sure!  And at first, I was very nervous about the challenge of learning a whole new grade level until I learned that I have 3 students!  THREE STUDENTS!  I was not only relieved at hearing that, but I was excited about the possibilities!  Every teacher would love to spend the kind of one-on-one instruction, discussion, and help to give to students like I will be able to with only 3 students!  And since this next week is already planned and prepped, I will get to go through this next week, getting a feel for what works and how to make it mine as time goes on!

So starting tomorrow, I will be teaching in a real classroom again (so, so excited), but only part-time (again, so, so excited)!  I will still get to be home with my son and husband for lunch, be able to cook for our college students and do laundry during nap time, and pick my daughter up from school each day!

And now I KNOW that God isn't a bad songwriter.  And once again, I am reminded that He is never confused.  Things had to happen in this order, and in His timing.  Do I know why He wants me in these 3 students' lives yet?  No.  And I am looking forward to seeing why He wants them in my life.

God answered prayers and questions for several people in this scenario.  I don't know why He decided to involve me, and bless me with answers too.  I'm just grateful and in awe... and ready to get to work tomorrow!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Setting Goals in Reverse: How Our Goals for 2020 Begin Now

I have to admit that I was an avid FRIENDS fan and saw every episode for 10 years.  And the experience I am about to relay to you, dear reader, made me think of an episode when Rachel sits down to make some life goals during her 30th birthday party...
Check out the clip:  Setting Goals in Reverse, Rachel-style!

As she is backtracking to her present situation, she realizes that what she wants is never going to happen if she continues just "seeing how it goes" in her current life situations.  My husband and I had a similar experience when setting our New Year's Resolutions for 2016 and beyond.

It was going to be a long day in the car, and it was the first day of a brand new year!  My husband, Kyle, and I had spent the previous evening/night celebrating New Year's Eve with friends in Tulsa, and the next day we were driving to a suburb of Branson to pick up a wood-burning stove we had purchased off Craig's-List.  We had had a pretty crazy holiday season, due to having our van totaled just days before we traveled to 3 states for the our Christmas celebrations - yaaaay...  But what looked like a disaster had turned into a blessing.  See, a couple of weeks before someone rear-ended our van, we had been given an estimate of what it would cost to get our fireplace to work properly... let's just say A LOT!  And then we were in a car accident... so we were headed into the holiday season trying to keep the "merry" spirit in our hearts.  It just worked out that we found a van exactly like the one we had (except the color) and it was cheap enough that with the leftover insurance money we could also purchase a used wood-burning stove to set in our fireplace!  So, that was just a side-story, but how awesome is that?!

So, we headed out for the Branson-area with thankful hearts that all had turned out fine, in fact much better than we had hoped!  And our kids were staying with my parents, so a day-long road trip with the love of my life... yes, it was just to pick up a stove, but it felt like a New Year's date day - even though it would all be spent in the car.

It surprised me how I hadn't really thought about what 2016 would look like... I figured it would look a lot like 2015... me being home while working a few odd jobs, my oldest starting school in the fall, and spending more time with my little guy who would be turning 2 soon.  But it being New Year's Day, the conversation naturally rolled around to what our goals and "resolutions" would be for the new year.  And while I'm not sure if this is how every couple is, but like all our planning conversations go, the topic of future children came up.  We have always talked about having 4 kids, and adopting... we have debated on whether adopting was included in the 4 total or not... but that's beside the point.

We currently have 2 kids, and we used to want all of our kids to be really close in age.  Our youngest is turning 2 soon, so it was needed to talk about what our future plans were in the "when to have more babies" category.  The reason we hadn't discussed it much is because we haven't been able to agree on how our next babies are getting here.  I had been feeling quite done having the babies myself, but Kyle wants one more biologically.  And since we can't agree, we just compromised and decided that we would wait a while before making any decisions...

But during our conversation we eventually agreed that we want to have one more child biologically and then adopt... one... maybe more... we'll see how it goes...

The planner in me instantly reacted with, "So, when? And how?  How much will that cost?  How will we save that much money?..."

We agreed that we wanted to put some time between our first 2 kids and the next "batch" is what I kept saying.  But we don't want too much time to pass. We very much want to do open adoption, and we have a specific agency we keep coming back to... and they require a parent to stay-at-home until the adopted child is in Kindergarten... so that is definitely something that plays a big part in "the plan".

And then there is the practical financial side to things... I am a stay-at-home mom with a few part-time jobs that pay for a little fun here and there... how were we going to save the thousands of dollars we would need to go the adoption route we want to pursue?  And having another baby (via c-section) would cost money too.  Where would this extra money come from?

As we continued our discussion, we reminisced about how we didn't know how God was going to work out our finances for me to stay home in the beginning... and looking back over the past 2 years, we have seen how God has glued together this framework for us to work and support our family while still being able to have more flexible schedules for the things we have wanted to accomplish in our family and ministry...

So we know we can live on less money that we did when we both worked full-time.  And our daughter is starting school this Fall.  So we would only have one child in childcare if I went back to work full-time.  And the job I had before will be opening up again... hmm... I really miss teaching.  I worked before when we only had one child at home... hmm...  We could live off the same budget and put all the extra money in savings for a c-section and open adoption...

So, all of that being said, we came home that day on the same page with a very different vision for 2016 and beyond than we did before... Definitely a working backwards way of doing it, but we realized that what we want to accomplish years down the road starts today and is built upon tomorrow.

But we also agree that our plans are just that - plans.  Tentative plans.  Plans made by human minds with finite understanding of the big picture that God is weaving together.  With school budgets the way they are currently, I may not find a teaching job at all.  And if that is the case, God will give us children in His timing, and He will continue to provide for bills He has given us - just as He has time and time again in the past.  There have been times in the past that money was just handed to us for no reason, sometimes by secret-givers.  There have been times when extra jobs became available, and we were able to earn some money for a special need.  There are other ways of paying for adoptions... there are other types of adoption that cost a lot less or practically nothing at all too.  The point is, God is still God.  This world is still His creation.  I am a steward, not an owner.  I am the servant, not the Master.  I only control my obedience, not the journey or outcome of any of this.

But I did learn a lot that day riding shotgun with my husband on the way to pick up a stove.  We came home that day with a reunited front against apathetic passing of time.  We headed home with a new glimmer for old hopes.  And we keep reminding each other months later that however it works out, we are open.  We have a plan held out in flat hands for God to shape into mirror-images of His plans... or to make it easier for our hearts if He snatches our plans out of grasp.  He is the Lord, and He has every right to "exercise His will over our lives".

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Freedom from Junk 2016 - Day 57... Um, I Mean Day 68

Can I just be honest and say that these past 6 weeks of me working full-time while trying to keep up with my other part-time job, helping my husband with his ministry, trying to spend meaningful time with our kiddos, and just trying to keep up with the basics - clean underwear, food, and clean dishes - has been a blur - an impossible blur!  So trying to finish the Freedom from Junk Challenge in the month of February on top of all that was an insane idea!  In the beginning, it seemed like a great idea!  But the awful embarrassing truth about me is that I think I am Superwoman.  I do!  I might never say that, but I just keep saying "Yes" when I should have learned by now how to say, "No", "Not now", or "Never"... but I am a very unteachable stubborn person.  And every once in a while I have to face the reality that I am not now, nor have I ever been, super anything.  Except maybe super stuck on pretending that I am. Those 6 weeks of working full-time again in, what I feel, is one of the hardest jobs... I felt pulled in many directions at once.  And I had to once again admit that I am only one person only capable of being in one place at a time, doing only what 2 hands, 2 feet, and a Bachelors degree can accomplish.  But I learned a lot about myself, I got to teach professionally (which is something in my blood, it literally pumps life into me... as it also drains it out, ha!), I Was reminded what a true partner my husband is as he took on a lot to help fill the gaps I couldn't fill anymore, and I got to see what it is like to work full-time while having 2 kids!  There are pros and cons to pretty much everything in life, and those 6 weeks (and what they were all for) is another blog post coming soon!

I bet you noticed that the title of this post says "Day 57"... this was supposed to all be done by the end of February.  It is the end of March, and we are only halfway finished with this challenge.  It was so long ago, I even had to reread my last posts about this uncluttering challenge just to remember what my goals were, let alone actually reach any of them!  We still have all the previously cleared out items for give-away and selling, some of it currently being in a huge car seat box in our bedroom.  Kyle has been awesome, throwing in new items for give-away on occasion.  And each time he tells me he has added something to the box, I chuckle, mentally pinning my chest with a failed challenge badge.

But, the great news is that I made up the goals and the challenge... so I can restart the challenge!  Today was my first day back to my normal life of full-time mom, part-time babysitter... tomorrow I go back to my part-time preschool assistant job.  I spent most of the morning just putting everything back in its place in my home, and it feels so good to look around and know that my house is put back together, for the most part.  I hated the feeling for 6 weeks of walking by clutter, dirty laundry,  both sides of my sink full of dirty dishes... and not having the time or energy to take care of all of it the way I want.  It seemed everything in my home was only partly done, and it drove me crazy!

HA!!!  That first part was written almost 2 weeks ago!  I am still so deranged at times that I believed getting back into my regular schedule and catching up wouldn't be demanding!  So I have been back in the "Stay at home mom while working 3 part-time jobs" schedule for 2 weeks, and I just now feel like I am caught up.  And by "caught up", I don't mean all my dishes and laundry are clean or that all my projects are completed... all I mean is that I feel present again.  Before I felt like I was drowning a bit, and then I felt like I needed to be in recovery from drowning... I now feel like I can manage my life again, or manage within reason and no worse than before!

So, back in the saddle again for the challenge to declutter my home, and I really am excited to get it done this time!  I am going to give myself a more realistic deadline this time around, and I promised my family not to take on any demanding projects or other jobs until this one is finished.

When we left off last time (Day 14 - gasp), we had cleared out 389 items from our kitchen, entryway closet, my son's/my husband's/my closet and dresser.  While I was not able to consign the clothes I cleared from my son's room in the children's resale event I usually participate in every 6 months, I was able to give it all to a friend who is having a baby boy soon!  The due date is close to my son's birthday, so I was excited to know that most of the clothes will be the perfect season for her son to use!  And putting all these sweet, precious memories in a box to give to someone isn't as difficult when you know they will be used to make new memories for someone else.

So, we still have half the original goal list to tackle, and at least 111 items to get rid of!  The places in my house left to attack and clear out are:
Our bedroom
My daughter's closet
The toys in the living room and play room
Laundry room
Downstairs desk
Upstairs desk

And let's face it - since it has been 2 months since I cleared out the first spaces, I will need to re-unclutter the kitchen counter that I cleaned the first day of this challenge!  Such is life!

What my bedroom usually looks like - except sometimes there is even a hamper of clean clothes next to the bed with random shoes and clothes on the floor.  This must have been a good day!  There is a hope chest at the foot of the bed, but you can't see it because I hate to hang clothes up, so they usually rest here until I make myself do it.  Also, the chair next to the bed is my side... I am realizing that I should probably actually use the chair for all those items sitting in the floor underneath it!  Sheesh!

This is the upstairs desk I have listed above as an area in need of uncluttering... I have no idea what are in any of those boxes.  And all the random things on the left wall are leftover decorations and other miscellaneous things from Emersyn's birthday party almost 5 months ago!

The closet (which my handy husband designed and built) was also looking pretty good this day!  There are always random pictures, papers, hangers, and other items sprawled on the floor.  And that car seat box is full of give away items... it has been sitting there since the second week of February.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Choosing How To Burn: Remembering Dred, Learning from Scholl, Reversing Roe

On this day in 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the Dred Scott case that African-American citizens were not equal to other human beings and citizens in our country, therefore they were denied their basic Constitutional rights. Later with the 13th amendment, that decision was reversed and slavery was finally ended. It wasn't because everyone agreed it should end, and believe me, many many people were offended. Some lost their livelihood, their "way of life", while others gained a fought-for freedom by so many soldiers, legislators, freed men and women, regular people who called themselves abolitionists and spoke out, and of course, the then-former slaves themselves. The government was wrong, which isn't uncommon, but the amazing thing is that the government admitted they were wrong AND CHANGED IT.

The Nazis used the same arguments to dehumanize Jews and other groups causing 12 million+ people to be wiped out, while every day people kept silent of their disapproval or joined in on these round-ups and mass murders out of fear or believing such lies.  America and the rest of the world were horrified when they discovered the truth of how much these people were stripped of their rights and treated worse than animals.  The Jews had been blamed for society's problems, propaganda, when all they were doing was existing.  They were a target to heap all others' inconveniences and problems upon.  And everything Hitler and his followers did were considered legal in their country... because they called the shots, literally.  And gas chambers and mass graves... Our nation and the rest of the world called these actions what they were - hate crimes - and ordered justice to be done.  We fought a war against them, put them on trial, and eventually the whole world-wide built museums recording the devastation and atrocities carried out - and honored all the victims, those that died and those that survived... because they were people who deserved the same rights as everyone else.

In 1973, our Supreme Court once again decided that some were not "created equal" and therefore did not deserve the same basic human rights that the rest of us have - the right to keep their lives. In 43 years, our country has stamped "approved" on the murder of over 56 million preborn babies. Our government has been wrong, the church has been silent, but will we admit we've been wrong? Deadly wrong?

My prayer is that my children's generation will see abortion clinics the way I see Auschwitz in Poland and old slave quarters in the U.S. South - places where horrible atrocities USED TO occur on a daily basis. But why not now?! Why can't we stop being afraid someone will be offended? When will we come alongside these women who feel this is their best option with an unwanted child to let them know all of their options - better options?! If the government won't change on its own, then we must do what those before us have done - awaken our culture from apathetic sleep!

Abortion is killing 3 thousand of our own a day, and we are either desperate to justify it or ignore it...

When will we call it what it is - WRONG! When will we demand that our government admit it has been wrong once again and demand change?!

Instead we have used slogans and propaganda to further this grave sin by calling it many things that it isn't.  When will science stop saying, "It is the woman's body, so she should choose"... the baby's body isn't hers - be scientists using basic science! It is not "just another form of birth control", because instead of preventing pregnancy or birth, it ends life.  A favorite of so many is that aborition is "a sad necessity to save women's health" and "a reproductive health issue"... when any doctor, nurse, and even abortionist could tell you that reproduction has already occurred when there is a fetus.  Or how about those who call for equality for all people, but then decide that since a fetus is not fully developed, they are less human and therefore are not protected with the same rights from the Constitution that the rest of us are... THAT IS AGEISM at its most basic definition... and at its worst.

  When will we stop saying it is for rape victims, because less that 1% of all abortions are for cases of rape and incest!  When will we stop saying it is a matter of necessity when 92% of babies diagnosed with Down's Syndrome in utero are aborted... perhaps from inconvenience or fear or vanity?!  And when will people stop calling it "pro-choice" when so many former abortion clinic workers and women who have had abortions have come out to admit that the clinics they were in (including Planned Parenthood) never allowed these women to know what their other choices and options were?!  These clinics have quotas to meet, and they thrive upon the rhetoric that a baby isn't a baby until the woman carrying the baby thinks of it as such... how is that medical science?!

We need to consider and care for all humans when discussing this issue - the women who feel trapped and desperate, the babies they are carrying (no matter if the mother thinks of them as babies or not), the children already in foster care (pro-life AND pro-choice people need to do this), and even those clinic workers who perform these murders every day.  We especially need to reach out to those who have already had abortions.  They all need our love and the truth.  We all need to embrace the fact that for 43 years we have been wrong.  Deadly wrong.  But that doesn't have to be the way we continue!

See, the difference is that slaves could rise up and be joined by former slaves and other abolitionists to fight for their freedom.  Many Jews and their allies helped people escape during the Holocaust and worked tirelessly to rehabilitate them into good health and society when the war was ended.  But how can babies from the womb escape?  Fight back?  Cry out for their own cause?  Who is going to argue in court for their rights, because they cannot be heard?  It doesn't mean they aren't crying out; we just can't hear them.

"It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing." - Reverend Charles F. Aked

No child should pay for the sins and troubles his or her parents have had.  Unfortunately it happens often - every 30 seconds, in fact.  So many of the arguments used today to support abortion were used, and found wanting, in previous eras of discrimination.  "The woman owns the fetus, therefore she has the right to end his or her life"... many slave owners used that one.  Many have said Blacks and Jews were inferior to others - it never made it true... just as a fetus is considered "less human" because he or she is in an early developmental stage.  "I would never have an abortion, but I wouldn't keep someone else from having one"... sounds an awful like those who would never own a slave or turn over a Jew to the Nazis... but I wouldn't stop my neighbor from doing so.  "We shouldn't free the slaves, because the quality of their lives would be horrible"... this is a very common argument to support abortion in our age.  So many in our culture think a baby should be killed just because they have a higher chance of having a difficult life than others.

That isn't love.  That is the easy way out.  It would be more work to take in these children.  It would take time and resources to give these women help if they want to raise their own children.  It would require more than just a slogan and a $400 trip to Planned Parenthood to make sure each child's chance of a difficult life was lessened.  Real love does the hard thing.  Real love takes the time and resources and makes beauty from ashes.

Hate is an apathetic selfishness that says, "Leave me alone and do what you want."

Sophie was executed in 1943 for her participation in the resistance movement against the Nazis during WWII.

Sophie Scholl, an anti-Nazi activist who was executed by the guillotine with her brother, Hans, her quote continues.. "It's the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you'll keep it under control... But it's all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn." O2  : Breathing New Life Into Faith (2008) by Richard Dahlstrom

Many fires have been started in the fight for the rights of the preborn.  Many of those flames have died down because 43 years and 57 million murdered babies feels like the fight has been lost.  Slavery in the U.S. lasted approximately 250 years.  Antisemitism is as old as Bible times.  And we feel defeated after only 43 years?!  But a new spark is catching fire across our nation and the world; abolitionists have been trying to engage our culture in the discussion.  To change our culture's thinking.  They are offering to adopt these women's unborn children.  They are fostering children already born.  They are pleading with these women outside abortion clinics and offering them real help.  They are offering free ultrasounds, counselling, and financial help with no strings attached.  They are celebrating heroic birth mothers who choose life for their children.  They are calling out the sin of silence so disgustingly prevalent in our American churches and government.  They are also helping those working in abortion clinics to leave this line of work, find other work, and begin to heal from the the years of daily death caused by their own hands.

We should remember Roe and thank God that this evil was ended in our country. We should listen to Holocaust victims' stories and allow ourselves to be horrified of not only the evils bad men have done, but also of the horrors decent men allowed through their silence.  We must reverse Roe. We need to end AGEISM in our generation!

"Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did." - Sophie Scholl's Statement to the Volksgerichtshof [People's Court] of Judge Roland Freisler (21 February 1943)

 "Am I not a man and a brother?" picture to the left was used in abolition materials in the 1800s to educate people about the humanity of slaves, and that their captivity, sale, and being owned as property was wrong, criminal even.
The picture on the right was taken by Abby Johnson, a pro-life proponent, of her own miscarried child who died in her womb at 7 weeks. She is a former abortion clinic worker who now works to educate our culture about the horrid truths of abortion and runs a ministry called "And Then There Were None" where they rescue abortion clinic workers from that line of work!

For more on this topic go  here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What My Wedding Vows Should Have Been...

We wrote our own vows.  It is a very modern thing to do... except now, maybe the new hipster thing is to do the old thing... I don't know anymore. I quit trying to be cool quite a while ago!  I am 32, and I have been married for almost 7 years.  Depending on your view and/or experience of marriage, you may see that as a short time or a long time.  But one of the things I have learned about marriage, is that it really shouldn't be measured in time - it should be measured by experiences.  I don't think our marriage was ever a challenge until we had a second child, which was about 2 years ago.  For us that was the straw that broke the camel's back... except, we are now still happily married, so I guess it just dislocated its hip or something... okay, that's a bad illustration, maybe.

So for those who think 5 years is too short of a time to feel disconnected from a spouse to the point where you ALMOST don't care anymore... I can say you are wrong.  For those who are wondering why it took us so long to get to that point, I want to say that I am truly sorry it happened earlier for you.  I am learning it is different for everyone when the honeymoon stage ends, but I have also learned that God can repair anything... ANYTHING.  And most of the time, marriage "falls apart" because we stop doing the things we did in the beginning.  And once you begin to do those things you did in the beginning - be intentional, spend quality time together, TALK and LISTEN, show enthusiasm, respect, be loving...

There we go - off to be disillusioned!!!

We found ourselves a little over a year ago in that "just cohabitating and getting by" phase... We had been through a second birth, newborn months of sleepless nights, I had stopped working to stay home with the kids, he had taken on a second job, and we had moved.  I think we both took for granted that the other person would be alright if we just gave in to how tired we were.  So when we just wanted to veg out, we turned to TV, social networks, and our kids' entertainment.  Neither of us were unfaithful or dishonest or mean (well, okay, I was a little mean...) or anything like that.  We just slowly drifted into an existence of being fine with things not being fine.  I'm sure there are millions of married people who know exactly what I am trying to describe.  It is an easy trap to fall into.  One night we had a very serious discussion... a crossroads... and I remember saying, "I don't even feel married anymore, and it doesn't even bother me... but that scares me to death!"  So we decided to do what it takes to get out of that kind of "don't care" hole... you dig yourself out!  We took a class with other couples in our church called "Marriage on the Rock", and we relearned so many things we already knew.  We just hadn't cared enough to practice what we would have told anyone else to practice!  In the past year we have chiseled through a lot of things that we had allowed to build up between us.  It has been difficult, but it is a difficulty that has a greater gain than easy ever gave!  We no longer believe "that won't happen to us", because isolation, selfishness, and indifference can happen to ANYONE - whether they have kids or not, whether they have a lot of money or not, whether they had great role models in marriage or not... because in every marriage there are 2 people who have to make their marriage thrive to survive.  Anyone who tells you that their marriage has always been easy, they are either lying to you or they are lying to themselves.

But if this is the universal reality, why don't weddings reflect this truth that is inevitable... that you won't always be head over heels?!  I mean, I know that's why we make vows... if marriage was easy forever, then promises wouldn't be necessary.  But we are really setting ourselves up for failure, aren't we?!  We promise to ALWAYS cherish, ALWAYS care, to ALWAYS love and respect.  I am so glad we promise these things at the beginning of a marriage, because being able to rely on one another and trust each other is so vital to keep that marriage alive!

But what about promising to say "I'm sorry"?  What about committing to "supporting you, even when you fail"?  What about vowing to forgive?  "To stay even if we have the same argument for the next 57 years"?! "To pursue you, even though I have already won you"?!

I mean, anyone who has been married for a few years or through a few trials of life can tell you that we marry flawed people... that's the only kind of people to marry!  So, that means they have married a flawed person too - yourself! Myself!

If I had known that I would be the kind of wife that hates to apologize, easily justifies using disrespectful tones often, to be defensive, to be easily embarrassed by failure... believe me, I would have written vows that included promises about these things.  I guess I knew these things about myself from how I had behaved in other relationships with friends and family, but I was so in love in the beginning that I really believed our love would eradicate all those tendencies within myself... WHAT A JOKE!

We had our first all-out fight within an hour of returning from our honeymoon.  My husband said he didn't want us to go to a family thing, that I really wanted to go to.  We fought, I mean FOUGHT!  I cried, I felt things toward my husband I had never felt before.  My tone was disrespectful, my attitude was mean and selfish... and thankfully I was enough of a newlywed that I paid attention to his logic early enough to see that he was actually thinking about me, trying to help me.  I said I was sorry for being a baby and wanting my way.  He said he was sorry for... who knows... he is much nicer than me, and often apologizes for how he behaved, when it is really my fault.  The family thing was 2 1/2 hours away from home, we had literally just arrived home from being gone for a week, and we both had work in a day and a half... he was right - the last thing we needed to do was spend a full day on the road to go to a family thing when we had a week's worth of dirty laundry in our suitcases and a living room full of gifts we hadn't opened, a refrigerator full of leftover reception food, and planning for the work week ahead.  I married a smart man who is strong enough to handle me... and yes, sometimes I need to be told that I am being stubborn and unwise.

I am also a teacher by nature - it is in my blood!  I hate to see others fail, and I have this innate need within myself to help them succeed.  I can't help it!  And there have been a few moments in our marriage where I thought my husband was making a bad choice.  And sometimes not "bad" but just not "best".  I have learned that my counsel, while welcomed and listened to, he and I just don't always agree.  There have been a few times in our lives where I feel like we are taking steps backward from our goals... and since I am a planner, I always have the next 5 steps for going forward mapped out.  I am a control-freak, and it has taken several of these "regression" points in our marriage for me to see that I am often concerned with how things look to other people.  I have learned that it matters to me that others know my husband's failures are not mine.  That I did not support that unwise decision he made... that others might think less of me if they think less of him.  When Kyle and I have a future goal, and he decides to "wait it out" or "let's just see"... it drives me crazy, and I call this failing.  I'm learning that sometimes it is much wiser than bulldozing ahead to make things happen.  He is learning that sometimes, things have to be made to happen.

That is what marriage is - learning and using each other's strengths (and what sometimes appears as weaknesses) to our family's benefit, for everyone's benefit.

I have learned that it is impossible to consider myself and my husband "one flesh" when he is being his wonderful self, and then "his decisions aren't mine" when he makes a mistake... I can't have it both ways.  That is a lie that ruins marriage.  We must share and celebrate all victories while also sharing and learning from each other's defeat together, and that is what makes a marriage stronger.

My husband is preaching his first wedding ceremony tomorrow for a dear couple that graduated from our college ministry.  And while he has been studying, writing, practicing, and even asking me for my input, it really got me thinking about all of this... Why say vows if they do not assume and provide for the inevitable - we are going to mess up, hurt each other, and fail.  We need to promise that we will be faithful, love, respect, and cherish each other - yes!  These are essential, vital elements of marriage!  But we must also promise to say we are sorry when we screw it all up, even if for the first or the millionth time, and to forgive the other when they have failed.  We also need to promise to do whatever it takes to reconcile and dig yourself out of the "don't care" hole, if and when we come to that place... for as long as we both shall live!

So for those who have yet to say your vows - be sure to allow a section on how you promise to apologize and reconcile with your spouse when your sinfulness and flawed humanness starts to show.  And for those who already said your vows... maybe months or decades ago... decide today, just like I have to every day (and still should even when I don't feel like it), that we will say we are sorry to the person who should mean the most to us.  That we should love them no matter their weaknesses, fears, and inadequacies.  They are just people after all.

"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8